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Drilling In The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Essay Checker

In this undated photo, caribou from the Porcupine Caribou Herd migrate onto the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. The refuge takes up an area nearly the size of South Carolina in Alaska's northeast corner. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP hide caption

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP

In this undated photo, caribou from the Porcupine Caribou Herd migrate onto the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. The refuge takes up an area nearly the size of South Carolina in Alaska's northeast corner.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP

It was hardly a footnote in most national stories on the issue, but Congress' passage of the Republican tax bill will be a chapter in Alaska's history books. The law opens a part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development, ending an epic, nearly four-decade battle.

For years, environmental groups, the oil industry, Alaska Native communities and the state's political leaders have debated the potential consequences of oil development in ANWR — on species like caribou and polar bears, on Alaska's oil-dependent economy, on nearby villages and on the climate.

But now, those hypotheticals are about to get real. The tax bill calls for the federal government to hold at least two oil and gas lease sales in the next decade. And Alaska might finally get an answer to one of its big questions: which oil companies — if any — will actually want to drill in ANWR?

For now, the top three oil companies in Alaska are keeping their cards hidden. ExxonMobil declined to comment for this story. ConocoPhillips said in a statement it will "consider it against other opportunities in our portfolio, just as we do with exploration opportunities worldwide." BP referred all questions to an industry lobbying group, the Alaska Oil and Gas Association. Kara Moriarty, the association's president, said she has no idea what oil companies might bid on leases to drill in the Arctic Refuge.

"They don't talk about whether they're participating in a lease sale or not because it's a highly competitive industry," Moriarty said.

That said, there are clues that oil companies are pretty curious about the 1002 area — the 1.5 million-acre section of the Refuge Congress just opened up for oil development. David Houseknecht, of the U.S. Geological Survey, is an expert on Alaska's oil resources. Lately, he's been getting a lot of calls.

"I've been contacted by companies as far away as Australia asking, 'well it looks like the legislation might pass that would allow exploration of the 1002 area. We are interested in evaluating whether or not we would like to participate in such a lease sale,'" Houseknecht said.

There are good reasons for oil companies to be asking questions, he continued. The data on how much oil is in the Arctic Refuge is extremely limited. Companies haven't been able to explore the area since the 1980s. But the data that does exist is intriguing. USGS estimates there's potentially somewhere between 4.3 and 11.8 billion barrels of oil in the Arctic Refuge's 1002 area. Those are huge numbers. For comparison, Alaska's second biggest oil field, Kuparuk, has produced about 2.5 billion barrels of oil.

Moreover, Houseknecht said the 1002 area has other advantages. The oil potential lies on shore — potentially an easier target than more technically complicated and expensive drilling in the Arctic Ocean. Alaska is also in a politically stable country. Those are big pluses for the oil industry. Houseknecht noted there aren't many other places on the planet like that.

The Arctic Refuge's 1002 area is "quite unique when you look around the world for areas where there may be billion-barrel opportunities for discovery," Houseknecht said.

But there are also uncertainties. Any oil production in the Refuge isn't likely to occur for at least a decade. But at today's low oil prices, developments in the Lower 48 are often cheaper for oil companies to pursue than projects in Arctic Alaska — especially with the rise of improved oil recovery techniques like hydraulic fracturing.

"It's clear Alaska needs more development," said Wood Mackenzie analyst Cody Rice. "It's not as clear to me that oil companies need big, complicated Arctic projects right now when you can see billions of barrels in resource being added on an annual basis in West Texas."

It's also a safe bet that environmental groups are going to continue fighting oil development in the refuge any way they can, including in court. Erik Grafe, an attorney with EarthJustice in Anchorage, said Congress may have changed the law to allow drilling in the Arctic Refuge, but all other environmental laws haven't gone away.

"If the Trump administration tries to rubber stamp oil decisions or takes shortcuts, we won't hesitate to go to court to enforce these environmental laws," Grafe said.

But Moriarty of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association said for the industry she represents, dealing with environmental opposition is just part of the job.

"Alaska has been the poster child for litigation cases for any type of development on [Alaska's] North Slope. And so I think companies sort of factor that in," Moriarty said.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who spearheaded the measure to allow drilling in the Arctic Refuge's 1002 area, is also confident that the environmental opposition won't dissuade the oil industry from pursuing development there.

Speaking to reporters in Anchorage several days before the tax bill passed, Murkowski added she's not surprised oil companies aren't publicly expressing interest in ANWR.

"If the door is never even cracked open, they're not going to line up. They have other prospects to look to," Murkowski said. "And only after such time as we allow for it to even be considered would we anticipate that you're going to have the companies show any interest."

Now, that door is open, and the world is going to find out just how much the oil industry really wants to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

To Drill or Not to Drill? A Case Study in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge


To Drill or Not to Drill is a multidisciplinary problem based learning exercise, which intends to increase students' knowledge of a variety of topics through a real world environmental topic. In addition, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) impacts students either directly (depending on the age level) or indirectly (through their parents) as gas prices soar to record high levels.



Advanced High School to Introductory Geology Course for undergraduate majors and non-majors

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Command of oil formation processes, location, extraction methods, environmental impacts.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is a participatory problem-based activity that requires both in-class and out-of-class time (research and information synthesis).


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The students will gain a deeper understand of the tundra ecosystem and the Arctic.

  • Examine the Arctic wildlife, habitats and animal migration patterns
  • Develop an initial understanding of the interactions and interdependencies within ecosystems
  • Examine the native people and how they relate to the environment.

The students will gain a deeper understanding of conservation biology.

  • Understand species conservation and protection
  • Understand the implications of habitat loss and fragmentation
  • Grasp the changes in species migration patterns due to exploration and drilling in ANWR

The students will consider the economics and policy decisions that come with hot political issues.

  • Identify economic problems, alternatives, benefits, and costs
  • Compare benefits of drilling with costs of drilling on both local (i.e. increase in jobs) and global (i.e., price of oil) scale
  • Understand public policy decisions relating to the environment to include management of renewable resources and management of nonrenewable resources
  • Understand the Trust Doctrine versus Balance Doctrine

The students will understand the personal and social perspectives of drilling in a pristine environment.

  • Understand how human actions affect ecosystems, both directly and indirectly
  • Understand that natural ecosystems provide an array of basic processes that affect humans
  • Examine supply/demand of natural resources and increasing human consumption of resources
  • Discuss the US's primary source of energy and whether it is sustainable
  • Discuss possible alternative sources of energy

Secondary goal (up to teacher): The student will examine the Arctic's role in global climate change and how drilling in the Arctic could impact the climate on a global scale.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students should be able to synthesize information and data from a variety of sources, including scientific, technological, political social, and cultural.

Other skills goals for this activity

Accessing and utilizing reliable internet resources. Ability to synthesize thoughts and communicate effectively.

Description and Teaching Materials

Over a period of two classroom sessions, the teacher/faculty, representing the scientific community, provides overview of ANWR, including the flora and fauna, from and ecosystem perspective. The teacher/faculty present the Trust and Balance Doctrines as well as raises awareness of potential bias and exaggeration in heavily political issues such as this. The teacher/faculty hands out the letter from the Secretary of the Department of Interior.

Over a period of three classroom sessions, the students will research the topics within their group, answering questions from the Secretary of the Interior, turn in a position paper with their research, and prepare and deliver an opening statement to the class. Students debate the issue, in a formal style debate, and the student Arbitrators present relayed information from the perspectives of the Trust and Balance Doctrines. The students make a recommendation to the Secretary of the Department of the Interior.

Teaching materials:
Online drilling videos from both a pro and con perspective
Letter from the Department of Interior: There are several key stakeholders with this issue, including Petroleum Companies, Environmentalists, Alaska Natives, the State and US Governments, the American population, and Arbitrators. Each letter contains key criteria and questions to be considered in this activity, as well as a list of potential resources.
List of potential resources (e.g. web-based references)
Example Files:

Required Cover Letter: To Drill or Not to Drill(Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 357kB Apr3 12)

Required Cover Letter: To Drill or Not to Drill(Acrobat (PDF) 179kB Apr3 12)

Student Handout: To Drill or Not to Drill(Acrobat (PDF) 243kB Apr3 12)

Teacher Notes: To Drill or Not to Drill(Acrobat (PDF) 242kB Apr3 12)

Teaching Notes and Tips

This activity has been successfully implemented in both a classroom and lab environment.
Lab Environment: Procedure outline above.
Classroom Environment (either 3 1-hour sessions or 2 90-minute session): Prior to Day 1, students conduct homework research on ANWR. Day 1, the students with guided facilitation by the teacher/faculty, discuss ecosystems, oil production, doctrines, and the significance of oil in society today. Day 1/2, Students are assigned roles and discuss key issues related to their role. Day 2/3, Students have an in-class debate, culminated by the Arbitrator discussion and recommendation. Homework, position papers written.

Accessibility: The activity inherently provides for multiple-learning styles, as students are watching video with auditory components and are actively engaged in discussion and debate. Other modifications can be made to accommodate learners with disabilities. For example, Cornell Notes is a strategy typically used in middle school teaching environment. The strategy provides students (specifically helping those with learning disabilities) with a means of pulling out key ideas, clarifying the materials and summarizing it. It prepares them for being better note takers. Specifically for students falling within the autistic spectrum, the role can be redefined where the student serves as fact checker for the arbitration team. For students who are hearing impaired or blind/visually impaired, all web-based materials are accessible, graphics enlarged, and they are actively included in all discussion.


All students are assessed according to a rubric which focuses on information presented in oral and written form, understanding of the topic and its importance to society, organization skills, and their rebuttal in oral debate. The students are assessed in activity preparation, in-class discussion, discussion within their role, oral debate, and final written position paper.

References and Resources

Note: The following resources may need to be updated as sites occasionally go offline or change.


Lieberman, B. (2005, March 17). Opening ANWR: Long Overdue. Energy and Environment. Retrieved March 12, 2008, from http://www.heritage.org/Research/EnergyandEnvironment/wm692.cfm.

Arctic Power. (2008). Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Retrieved March 12, 2008, from http://www.anwr.org/.

Carlisle, J. (2001, January). Environmentalists' Opposition to Oil Exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Is Unfounded. National Center for Public Policy Research's National Policy Analysis. Retrieved April 12, 2008, from https://nationalcenter.org/2001/01/01/environmentalists-opposition-to-oil-exploration-in-the-arctic-national-wildlife-refuge-is-unfounded-by-john-k-carlisle/.

Knight, P. (2005, December). ANWR: To Drill or Not to Drill? There is No Question. National Center for Public Policy Research's National Policy Analysis. Retrieved April 12, 2008, from https://nationalcenter.org/2005/12/01/anwr-to-drill-or-not-to-drill-there-is-no-question-by-peyton-knight/.


National Resources Defense Council. Arctic Wildlife Refuge. Retrieved April 12, 2008, from http://www.savebiogems.org/arctic/.

Alaska Wilderness League. (2008). Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Fact Sheets. Retrieved March 12, 2008, from http://www.alaskawild.org/news-and-events/fact-sheets/.

Sierra Club. (2008). Save America's Arctic: Chill the Drills and Fight Global Warming. Retrieved March 12, 2008, from http://www.sierraclub.org/arctic/.

United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Retrieved April 12, 2008, from http://arctic.fws.gov/.

McGrath, S. (2001, September). The Last Great Wilderness. Audubon. Retrieved April 12, 2008, from https://www.amazon.com/Audubon-Arctic-Great-Wilderness-Calendar/dp/1579653073.

Native Alaskans

Arnold, E. and Chadwick, A. (2005, November 8). ANWR Community Split on Oil Exploration. National Public Radio Broadcast. Retrieved on April 29, 2008, from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4994291.

Nageak, B. Inupiat Eskimos First, Best Environmentalists. Retrieved April 29, 2008, from http://www.anwr.org/people/nageak.html.

Gwich'in Steering Committee. (2005). A Moral Choice for the United States. Gwich'in Steering Committee. (2005). A Moral Choice for the United States. Retrieved April 29, 2008, from http://ourarcticrefuge.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/GSChumanrightsreport.pdf

Renewable Energy

National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Learning about Renewable Energy. Retrieved March 23, 2009 from http://www.nrel.gov/learning/.

U.S. Department of Energy. Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Retrieved March 23, 2009 from http://www.eere.energy.gov/.

The National Atlas. Renewable Energy Sources in the United States. Retrieved March 23, 2009 from http://www.nationalatlas.gov/articles/people/a_energy.html.

State Environmental Resource Center. Clean Energy. Retrieved March 23, 2009 from http://www.serconline.org/cleanenergy.html.

California Energy Commission. The Energy Story. Retrieved March 23, 2009 from http://www.energyarchive.ca.gov/energyquest/index.html.

US Government

Sarah Palin Press Releases (Google Search Results). ANWR. Retrieved March 27, 2009 from [http://google.state.ak.us/search?gov=yes&sort=date%3AD%3AL%3Ad1&output=xml_no_dtd&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&client=GOV&site=GOV&proxystylesheet=GOV&q=anwr&submit.x=8&submit.y=16].

Representative Don Young (AK) Press Releases (Search Results). Retrieved April 3, 2012 from [http://donyoung.house.gov/News/DocumentQuery.aspx?CatagoryID=5005].

Senator Lisa Murkowski (AK) Issues and Priorities (Search Results). Retrieved April 3, 2012 from https://www.murkowski.senate.gov/issues/issues-and-priorities.


Environment Canada. (2007, June 12). The Arctic Ecosystem. Retrieved April 3, 2012, from [http://www.ec.gc.ca/envirozine/default.asp?lang=En&n=DB93E6EF-1].

United States Geological Survey. (2008, April). Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) 1002 Area. Retrieved April 27, 2008, from [http://energy.usgs.gov/alaska/anwr.html].

University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. (2007, February 6). Tundra Ecosystem. Retrieved April 29, 2008, from [http://www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link=/earth/tundra_ecosystem.html].

US Energy Information Administration. Oil Formation. Retrieved April 3, 2012 [http://www.eia.gov/kids/energy.cfm?page=oil_home-basics].

Essentials of Geology Forming Mineral Resources. Retrieved April 3, 2012 from [http://www.wwnorton.com/college/geo/animations/15.htm].

Freudenrich, C. (2008) How ANWR Works. Retrieved March 23, 2009 from [http://science.howstuffworks.com/anwr.htm].


Brull, S. (2004). Versatile by Nature: Exploring the Law of the American Wilderness. Vermont Journal of Environmental Law. Retrieved April 15, 2008 from, http://vjel.vermontlaw.edu/writing-competition/roscoe-hogan-environmental-law-essay-contest/2004-essays/versatile-by-nature-exploring-the-law-of-the-american-wilderness/

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