Wednesday, March 23, 2005

USGS and ANWR

As readers of The Accipiter know, I have often quoted or otherwise referred to the alternative hippopotamus, whose comprehensive take on ANWR is inspired and, I think, crucial to the issue. He also lends his cyber-pen to a number of other topics worth discussing. So read him if you get a chance. He's done me the favor of posting a link to The Accipiter from his new stand-alone page, and I appreciate it.

More on ANWR, now that votes have been cast.

Althippo cites to a 2002 USGS report:

On March 29 [2002], the Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press reported that a 75-page report released by the U.S. Geological Survey "concludes significant harm could result from drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” According to the report, caribou and other wildlife are vulnerable and may face substantial risk if oil is developed.

Althippo then asks whether "the Bush administration put pressure on the USGS to suppress their findings[.] Let's just say that a) the USGS could have weighed in on the issue when it first came up in 2001, but chose not to, and b) the finding certainly undercuts the Bush argument that drilling will have minimal impact."

Having some familiarity with the USGS myself, I decided to go to their website and find ANWR research that's been publicized. There's a lot of it. And, to me, it looks like a lot of good, objective science.

A 2002 report, which, because of its length and comprehensive nature suggests it is the one cited, states: "Petroleum development will most likely result in restricting the location of concentrated calving areas, calving sites, and annual calving grounds [of the Porcupine caribou herd]. Expected effects that could be observed include reduced survival of calves during June, reduced weight and condition of parturient females and reduced weight of calves in late June, and, potentially, reduced weight and reduced probability of conception for parturient females in the fall."

It continues:

"In summary, 4 research-based ecological arguments indicate that the Porcupine caribou herd may be particularly sensitive to development within the 1002 portion of the calving ground: . . .
[1] Low productivity of the Porcupine caribou herd; [2] Demonstrated shift of concentrated calving areas of the Central Arctic caribou herd away from petroluem development infrastructures; [3] Lack of high-quality alternate calving habitat; and [4] Strong link between calf survival and free movement of females."

This is from "Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain Terrestrial Wildlife Research Summaries Section 3: The Porcupine Caribou Herd - Part 5," Biological Science ReportUSGS/BRD/BSR-2002-0001, found at http://www.absc.usgs.gov/1002/section3part5.htm.

Interesting, and supportive of the The Wall Street Journal's and the AP's take.

This summary of the history of USGS' ANWR work, found in the report, is more important, however. I quote it in full:

In 1980, when the U.S. Congress enacted the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), it also mandated a study of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Section 1002 of ANILCA stated that a comprehensive inventory of fish and wildlife resources would be conducted on 1.5 million acres of the Arctic Refuge coastal plain (1002 Area). Potential petroleum reserves in the 1002 Area were also to be evaluated from surface geological studies and seismic exploration surveys. Results of these studies and recommendations for future management of the Arctic Refuge coastal plain were to be prepared in a report to Congress.

In 1987, the Department of Interior published the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, Coastal Plain Resource Assessment - Report and Recommendation to the Congress of the United States and Final Environmental Impact Statement. This report to Congress identified the potential for oil and gas production (updated most recently by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2001), described the biological resources, and evaluated the potential adverse effects to fish and wildlife resources.

The 1987 report analyzed the potential environmental consequences of five management alternatives for the coastal plain, ranging from wilderness designation to opening the entire area to lease for oil and gas development. The report’s summary recommended opening the 1002 Area to an orderly oil and gas leasing program, but cautioned that adverse effects to some wildlife populations were possible.

Congress did not act on this recommendation nor any other alternative for the 1002 Area, and scientists continued studies of key wildlife species and habitats on the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge and surrounding areas. This report contains updated summaries of those scientific investigations of caribou, muskoxen, predators (grizzly bears, wolves, golden eagles), polar bears, snow geese, and their wildlife habitats.


If this is to be believed--and I think we're safe believing it--the Bush Administration has always known or should have known of the potential adverse effects on the Porcupine herd that drilling would have. In fact, West Wingers from the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton Administrations should have known as well.

The question is not, then, about whether Bush knew, or put pressure on the USGS to suppress their findings. I suspect their findings--incrementally, as research has been finalized--have always been publically available.

It seems to me that the Bush Administration knew and has always known of the potential negative impacts, and either chose to consider them as "minimal," or ignore them all together. The question is whether the impacts will be "minimal". That's a subjective point, I suppose. Sadly so.

From what I read in the report, I would characterize the impacts on caribou of the Porcupine herd (which, as althippo pointed out, are on the Endangered Species List) as much more than minimal.

The point: The Bush Administration wants ANWR open to exploratory drilling. End of story. All the chatter about directional drilling and other "good" things (while it has its merits) is window dressing and palate cleansing.

I don't doubt for a minute that drilling in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, . . . is less harmful to the environment than it was in 1975, when Prudhoe Bay was rocking and rolling. But the ethics underlying the rhetoric have always been questionable. I do not doubt for a minute that what the Bush Administration has characterized as "good news" about ANWR all along has been about politics and money, not wildlife or "safer technology."

By the way--and this is getting off topic a bit--which agency will ultimately oversee drilling in ANWR? Interior by the USGS or Interior by the Fish and Wildlife Service? Maybe Homeland Security can do it!

I joke. (I think. (?))

Perhaps there is some kind of hybrid approach being contemplated. Does anyone know? Since these are executive agencies, obviously whether a pro- or anti-Wildlife Refuge administration is in power as of 2008 is key.

2 Comments:

Anonymous alt hippo said...

Nice, thorough treatment of the USGS report. I thought it was interesting that their summary suggesting drilling.

I don't know if you've spent any time with the EIA report (which was based on the USGS report). I thought it was interesting that it had no Conclusion/Suggestion section at the end. Instead it ended with risks.

7:38 PM  
Blogger The Accipiter said...

Yeah, I'm willing to speculate that the drilling suggestion belies some top-down policy direction. However, from what I can tell, the scientists conducting the research have survived and do survive administrations without sacrificing their scientific integrity.

That said, I'm sure they know to keep their hats on in a rainstorm: Say what needs to be said to make sure the substantive body of work is accepted and published.

Or, since they are geologists (some of them), perhaps there's an inclination to acknoweldge the drilling possibility simply as part of a worldview that includes oilmen peers.

Show me where the EIA report is if you don't mind.

Thanks.

1:38 PM  

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