Drilling in Alaska: The Big Picture


WASHINGTON, D.C.—Thursday’s narrow Senate
for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil
drilling is just the latest—and by no means the last—shot in Big Oil’s Arctic rush. For years, with all eyes focused on the Middle East and Central Asia, the oil industry kept
alive its dormant plans to drill for oil and gas in
the far north—not just in places like Alaska, but in
the Canadian North, Siberia, and

With continued melting of the Arctic ice, the same global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels appears to be opening new territory. Now the time for exploitation is at hand. Resistance by the native peoples of the North is to be swept away with lures of money and their growing power to strike oil deals that can effect the future course of energy production across the world.

The Canadian oil industry, long controlled by the
big American companies, is usually considered as an
adjunct to American business. Canadian demands for
control have been dismissed with slighting references
to the “blue-eyed Arabs” of the North.

American companies have staked out resources in
the frozen Mackenzie delta area
and around Ellsmere Island
in the East. Bush has openly tied American energy
markets to Canadian resources, a promise (or
threat, depending on how you look at it) that is all
the more likely to take place because of trade
agreements meshing more tightly trade between the two
countries. One of Big Oil’s dream projects is to build
a pipeline to bring natural gas down through Canada
into the U.S. middle west. As U.S. demand for gas to make
clean electricity intensifies, that dream comes closer
to reality.

Canada energy resources are tied in other ways to
the U.S., notably through the great hydroelectric
project in James Bay, which currently sends power
down into the American East coast markets, including
New York.

Sooner or later, the Canadians well know, clean water from its
northern reservoirs will start being shipped into the
lower 48 to provide drinking water that can replace
the polluted aquifers of the Midwest and
elsewhere. A pipeline carrying water could be laid next to
the big planned gas pipeline.

Yesterday’s vote doesn’t mean the battle is over. The Senate version must be reconciled with a House bill that is far more expansive, opening coastal areas on the outer continental shelf to oil and gas drilling. It is sure to draw intense environmental antagonism, perhaps enough to tip the 51-48 balance back toward protecting the Arctic refuge.