Science and Alaskan north slope oil
By bnitz on Nov 04, 2005
I hesitate to bring up politics in my blog. I encounter enough politics whenever I speak with an American accent an Irish pub and I encounter enough controversy over whether GNU or CDDL is better or whether bash should be the default shell in Solaris or whether there is a property bubble.But I'm most tempted to express my views when politicians or lobbiests take advantage of scientific and technical illiteracy. A good example is oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). A budget bill supporting this is ready to pass in the next couple of days. What bothers me about this is the way it is being sold. From ABC news:
"Drilling supporters, including President Bush, who has made opening the refuge a top energy priority, argued that the country needs the estimated 10.5 billion barrels of oil that lies beneath the coastal plain. The oil represents a key to improving the country's energy security, they said."
Bush's estimate of 10.5 billion barrels is actually slightly less optimistic than the DOE's most wildly optimistic estimates of 16 billion barrels with a 95% probablity that there is less than this. 16 billion barrels of oil sounds impressive, doesn't it? Drill away, right? The problem is that the U.S. currently use over 7 billion barrels/year. (Here's a cool website which lets you explore the oil consumption data.)
ANWR would run dry in little over 2 years. But we can't possibly pull it out of the ground that fast. DOE's estimate of peak ANWR production is 1.55 million barrels per day. During the peak of an ANWAR 'gusher', it would only produce 7% of U.S. daily needs. The other 93% would have to come from elsewhere.
Those in the oil industry must know that we can't drill our way out of energy dependence, so why are they selling ANWR as a panacea? I could almost believe claims that the oil could be extracted without another Exxon Valdez were it not for this attempt to fool the public.
A basic level of science literacy should be taught in the schools so that the majority of the population can understand that conservation is a crucial part of any viable energy policy.