The coronavirus has upended our lives and the news cycle, which means many important stories have fallen through the cracks. Perhaps the most important of these is former President Trump’s decision to open up the country’s largest wildlife refuge, the ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) for oil drilling. The decision comes after the U.S. elections on November 3rd, in which President Trump lost his bid for reelection. This is part of a long string of the president’s dismantling of environmental protections, including a limiting of abilities and proposed 31% budget cut to the EPA, revoking of Obama-era environmental policies, including the Clean Air Act, and pulling out of the Paris Accord. The controversial decision comes much to the chagrin of climate/environmental activists and organizations such as the Sierra Club and Morristown’s very own Climate Strike Bike, and a reported more than half of Americans to disagree with the decision. The drilling will upend the indigenous people’s way of life, as well as the wildlife residing in the reserve, in addition to causing an increase in pollution affecting the whole world, including Morristown, and the acceleration of climate change. Proponents, however, say the financial advantages of the drilling will outweigh these effects, and that the damage will be negligible. On such a controversial topic, there is bound to be heated debate on both sides, with the unbiased facts being lost in the fray, so let’s take an objective look at the advantages and disadvantages of the decision.
The negative consequences of the ANWR drilling would be detrimental to the environment, wildlife, and indigenous people of the wildlife reserve and the world while yielding little to no results until far later. To start, the decrease in air quality would be up to 32% for nearby areas, which would cause irreparable damage to not only the people and wildlife living there but also the flora, many of which are only found in the ANWR and surrounding areas. The health effects on the region should not be taken lightly. Another impact of the drilling is the unavoidable trampling and destruction of the plants in the reserve, which are not only unique species but also food for the wildlife, which are food for the indigenous people. The hauling of supplies, resources, and oil to and from the drilling sites would disrupt and damage the ecosystem. Accidents would also let oil and other toxic contaminants seep into and poison the groundwater, which is consumed by the flora, fauna, and people of the refuge. Drilling is also known to cause an increase in the rate and severity of earthquakes and sinkholes. These local effects would be accompanied by effects felt by the whole world, as the pollution caused by the drilling would spread, even as far as the east coast*, so this decision is not something far away, but rather something that affects our own community in Morristown. In addition, oil spills that occur from the transportation of the oil would affect wide swaths of the earth, and be
able to spread for a while before being contained, as the nearest coast guard station is over 1,000 miles away. The drilling and subsequent burning of the oil would contribute massively to climate change, which is “the biggest threat to the existence of humanity” according to the United Nations. All of this would be for nearly nothing in the short-term, as optimistic estimates report that oil production would not begin until late 2030, or as long as early 2034, by when oil may be obsolete as we turn toward more sustainable renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. Overall, the factual and truthful conclusion is that the effects of the drilling are much too large to be ignored, and the decision will affect humanity worldwide for years to come.
This may seem like a debate among far-away people in faraway places, but the effects of this debate will be felt by everyone, including you. This decision will not only change the standard for oil drilling on wildlife reserves, but it will also contribute massively to climate change, which won’t stay in Alaska. Air pollution triggers asthma attacks, is proven to increase cancer, and that’s not the only worry. Oil spills and other contamination events would poison waterways all the way on the east coast. In addition to this, allowing the drilling would set a new standard of allowing companies to drill on protected land, so not only would the ANWR be affected, but reserves and national parks everywhere could be opened to fracking, including our very own Great Swamp. These consequences would affect people of all age ranges, not just adults. Though the benefits would also affect our town, with a new (and much-needed) economic revitalization coming from the income produced by the drilling. People who are struggling financially right now would be given a new boost from the profits of selling the products, again affecting kids and adults alike.
However, the benefits of the drilling also must not be ignored, especially the possibility of financial gain. The drilling has the possibility of making up to an estimated $296 billion in federal revenue (money for the federal government), with conservative estimates at $150 billion. This is not a small sum, and the money could be used to pay down the national debt and/or decrease taxes. This would greatly benefit the economy, especially after the expected COVID-19 pandemic’s financial crisis. While oil production would not begin for at least ten years, oil companies that would like to drill on the land would have to pay at least partially up-front, so the positive effects for taxpayers could be felt immediately, providing necessary monetary relief amid the pandemic. Another way the drilling would help the American people would be lower gas prices, keeping more money in people’s pockets. To summarize, drilling in the ANWR would help the economy and Americans in ways and to an extent that other solutions cannot.
In conclusion, former President Trump’s controversial decision to drill for oil in the ANWR is backed up by strong evidence on both sides, and while the environmental and health effects should not be taken lightly, the much-needed monetary relief the drilling could provide cannot be ignored. The political fighting over the decision has drowned out the facts of the matter, and so it has become hard for Americans to have a non-biased and informed opinion on the topic. When push comes to shove, the decision affects the people, so we need to form our own opinions on the topic.