Findings of a National Academies’ National Research Council report released on the cumulative effects of oil and gas exploration on the Alaska North Slope region present “a classic case of the tradeoffs that society faces when natural resource development is balanced against a desire to preserve and protect the environment,” according to NRC researchers.From the Texas A&M University :Alaska oil and gas exploration good and bad for area life
COLLEGE STATION, March 5, 2003 – Mahlon C. “Chuck” Kennicutt, director of the Geochemical and Environmental Research Group (GERG) at Texas A&M University, says the findings of a National Academies’ National Research Council (NRC) report released today (March 4) on the cumulative effects of oil and gas exploration on the Alaska North Slope region present “a classic case of the tradeoffs that society faces when natural resource development is balanced against a desire to preserve and protect the environment.”
Kennicutt was one of the 18 NRC committee members who compiled an assessment of oil and gas activities – including exploration, production and development – on domestic oil production from Alaska’s North Slope.
The North Slope region, which covers about 89,000 square miles, an area slightly larger than Minnesota, has been the focus of oil and gas exploration since 1968, with more than 558 billion gallons of crude oil produced from the region. Today, about 15 percent of the total annual domestic oil production comes from Alaska’s North Slope.
The key findings of the study, titled “Cumulative Environmental Effects of Alaskan North Slope Oil and Gas Activities” that began in 2000, was mandated by Congress, overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency and conducted by a committee convened by the National Academies of Science.
Accumulated affected include:
*Roads. The report says that roads have had effects as far- reaching and complex as any physical component of the North Slope oil fields. Roads alter animal habitat and behavior, but also increase communication between North Slope residents and those outside the area.
*Damage to tundra. The tundra has been damaged by the geophysical survey techniques that are critical to oil exploration efforts.
*Animal population. Because human food is available in oil fields despite efforts to control food stuffs, more predators (brown bears, arctic foxes, ravens, etc.) have been observed. As a result, some bird and mammal species have been negatively impacted.Kennicutt said the committee attempted to predict future accumulations of effects based on realistic scenarios of oil and gas development over the next 25 years including:
*The effect of declining revenues. “There is no turning back for many of these people, the native Eskimos,” he said. “The current way of life made possible by oil revenues would be difficult to maintain if oil activities ceased.”
*Abandoned infrastructure and unrestored landscapes. Kennicutt said the committee believes the network of roads and pipelines will exist for years, but only about 1 percent of the habitat on the North Slope affected by gravel fill has been rehabilitated.
*Societal changes. Increased revenue has brought a higher standard of living for native Eskimos in the area, Kennicutt says, but “it has also produced things rarely seen before, such as diabetes and rising alcohol consumption rates.”
“The major conclusion is that there are trade-offs of oil and gas exploration and development,” Kennicutt explains.
“There are the obvious economic benefits produced by energy exploration weighed against the inevitable changes in people’s lives and changes in the environment. The key is to reach a balance between the two.”
Kennicutt said future studies to be conducted range from environmental and eco-system studies to human health issues, such as obesity and drug use, to better define the changes that will occur.
“Before, decisions were made on a case-by-case basis,” he says.
“In the future, we will need a comprehensive framework of goals and objectives for the entire North Slope region.”
Kennicutt has directed 35 ocean research projects in the last 20 years. His research interests are marine chemistry, the chemistry of contaminants in the environment and the use of environmental monitoring systems. He has traveled to Alaska numerous times over the past two years while helping the 18- member committee to develop the report. He also conducted town meetings with native Alaskans to gather their input.
The full report may be seen at http://www.NationalAcademies.org or by calling Bill Kearney, media relations officer, at 202-334-2138.