The US Court of Appeals decision to halt oil and gas drilling plans in Alaska have resulted in battle lines being drawn up between two diverse camps involved in the issue.
On the one side are the environmentalists and the Inupiaq Eskimo people, who have welcomed the decision to stop the oil and gas companies taking action on the Bush administration’s five year leasing plan – a plan that the oil and gas industry claim is absolutely vital for the development of the economy and crucial to job security in the region. For the people of Point Hope the ocean is an integral part of their lives and they believe that offshore drilling would have a devastating effect on the ecosystem they rely on so heavily. The news that the Dereks wouldn’t be moving in any time soon has been welcomed by environmentalists too, who back up the indigenous population’s claims that not enough research has been carried out into the effects of drilling and that they do not have enough base line data to draw any conclusions at this point.
On the other side of the line are those who see the failure of the appeal as nothing short of a disaster. The Alaskan oil and gas fields hold the key to American self-sufficiency in oil and gas for the next 12 years alone, and the fact that in a time of increasing demand and decreasing supplies that such a rich potential source of oil and gas reserves is not being utilized is seen as folly. They also claim that drilling jobs, oil rig jobs and oil careers are being put at risk because of the halt in progress in the region. The industry sees these factors and the decision to stop the drills from turning as a disservice to the American people, particularly those in Alaska who rely on the industry for oil jobs. They see oil as vital for jobs, revenue to the government and to meet the demand from the rest of the country quickly and efficiently, but those opposing the leases say that the industry is just pandering to emotions and that fundamental flaws in the environmental impact assessments of drilling in such a delicate ecosystem have not been fully considered. The argument between the two sides looks set to continue as oil and gas industry officials try to encourage support for a re-start of the original Bush mandate.
They do accept that drilling will have an impact on the communities that play host to the wells, but they also site the fact that a single well can create a network of hundreds of jobs, both in drilling and rig jobs and in a cluster of support industries surrounding the well. That can include anything from a laundry service to engineering shops and hotel accommodation, meaning that the oil and gas industry would be making a direct contribution to the local community. Offshore drilling will generate a lot of jobs – jobs that the industry believes are badly needed in the more remote communities. They also feel that the nay-sayers have been relying too much on the ‘what if’ argument instead of concentrating on the ‘what is’ situation and they feel that this had a lot to do with the Court of Appeals decision to deny the continuation of leasing in this area for the moment. The hope is that after a short moratorium, the process can start up again as quickly as possible, bringing jobs and economic growth to a region that is in dire need of some form of financial influx. The proposal to explore the Alaskan coastline for oil and gas deposits has the backing of some very influential politicians who believe that Alaska has to accept its newfound role as the oil-fields of America. The Department of the Interior has already said that it is working towards a solution that will benefit both parties, and a breakthrough is hoped for at the earliest possible stage.