Opening up the Alaskan Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

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Opening up the Alaskan Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Many preconceived notions exist in the realm of environmental policy. Decisions are constantly made that effect human health or environmental integrity in order to reap great economic benefits for the many. Often these choices compromise the role of human beings as environmental stewards of the planet. It is my attempt in this paper to outline the development of a very controversial part of the proposed comprehensive energy policy: the opening of the Alaskan Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling. I will introduce the case by offering some background of the situation followed by an analysis of pertinent economic, ethical, social, and ecological issues. I will present the actors and their respective positions and investigate how they interacted with the rules, regulations, and laws that govern the policy. I will finally discuss what the potential alternatives are and what lessons are being learned.


The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge of Northeastern Alaska, which stretches for 20 million acres across a fragile tundra landscape, is home to over 350 (nearly extinct) musk ox and 180 bird species, which migrate from even Argentina or Chile. It is the largest Polar Bear denning area in the United States, offers calving ground for the 129,000-member herd of Porcupine Caribou, and supports among the largest populations of grizzly bears, wolves and moose (Student Pirg’s 2001). It remains one of the most pristine areas on the planet and is especially sensitive to environmental pollution due to the slow growth rate of the ecosystem.

The Refuge was first established in 1952 in a joint effort between biologist Lowell Summer and National Park Servi...

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Murphy, Kim. In Alaska, the Hunt for Oil, Gas only Begins at Wildlife Refuge; Energy: High Prices, Pro-Business Government Fuel the Drive for Drilling Activists are Gearing Up. Los Angeles Times February 6, 2001.

Nuclear Energy Institute. URL:

Student PIRG’s. Save America’s Arctic.

Time Magazine. How Much is Under the Tundra? Time Inc. 2/19/2001, Vol. 157 Issue 7.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2001. Potential impacts of proposed oil and gas development on the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain: Historical overview and issues of concern. Web page of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Fairbanks, Alaska. 17 January 2001.

Verhovek, Sam Howe. Drill, Say Alaskans, Who Know Their Pockets Are Lined With Oil. New York Times: Anchorage. March 15, 2001.
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