Alaskan oil reserves set to open up

Alaskan oil reserves set to open up

black throated loonIt’s been announced that the oil development leases for  over 2,800 square miles of land in Alaska  will go to auction in August. 190 separate tract of land will be put up but concessions have been made to protect the most fragile habitat around Teshekpuk Lake. The plans to ensure a protected buffer zone is hoped to conserve land important to migratory birds and animals.

Teshekpuk Lake is important as a calving ground for caribou and migratory birds such as black brant and a range of geese.  There’s been a mixed reaction from conservation organisations.

Eric Myers, of Audubon Alaska, considers the plans to be  “quite reasonable,” saying the agency provided additional areas for drilling while protecting special wildlife habitat.

But Brendan Cummings, for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the reserve is the country’s largest and most intact unprotected wilderness area, and protecting Teshekpuk Lake isn’t enough.

“They’re not going to cut out its heart, but they’re still cutting off an arm and a leg,” he said.

The Wildlife Conservation Society takes another view “This announcement reflects a sensible balance of wildlife protection and energy development in this poorly known, but hugely important public landscape” says Dr. Steve Zack, who has directed WCS studies near Teshekpuk Lake for the past six years.  “Our studies have shown that migratory birds are more numerous and are more successful in producing young in comparison to other areas of the coastal plain of Arctic Alaska.  In that light, areas near Teshekpuk should be considered sources of bird population growth and their protection is extremely important.

By concentrating oil prospecting in the Alaska Petroleum Reserve on the  North Slope it is hoped that the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve can be protected from oil prospecting and development. There’s little doubt that the US is determined to secure homeland oil reserves to ensure a stronger level of energy security.  For many any further development of oil reserves is a step too far but oil is still needed. There is not going to be a sudden overnight switch from a high carbon oil based economy to a low carbon renewable and nuclear economy.  Where it’s possible to make a move away from oil then that should happen but technology is not yet in place to totally end dependency on oil.  There’s materials, fertilizers and medicines that depends on the petro-chemical industry and it needs a secure source of raw product. If you look at the countries that currently supply oil to the US you see countries such as Columbia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq and other countries. There are not the most stable and pro-west countries and supply agreements can be fragile. As the oil runs out in the North Sea the UK is beginning to feel the impacts as it seeks to secure oil supplies from overseas. Rising prices and fragile energy supplies means that all countries need to look to secure supply. Europe felt the effects of needing to import from volatile nations just a couple of years ago when gas supplies were cut off from Russia because of pipeline disputes.

Ironically, although Teshekpuk Lake will see a buffer zone around it to protect and conserve it’s fragile habitat it is still under threat from oil. A  study in 2007 revealed that the disappearance of sea ice in the area had resulted in the marshlands and lakes being contaminated by saltwater which has resulted in loss of habitat for the wildlife in the area. With global warming and sea level rises the encroachment of the sea into the area will continue.

Audubon Alaska considers the lake and it’s surroundings one of the most important area in the entire arctic for both birds and wildlife. There is believed to be up to 45,000 individuals in the local caribou population which is an important source of food for the local Inupiat indians.  It is an important feeding ground for the threatened spectacled eider and up to 90,000 geese can moult in this region. The region is also important to the Yellow-billed Loon which  may soon be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Birds from across the world congregate at the lake, from New Zealand through South America, on to Asia and across Europe. Removing the land around Teshekpuk Lake from the auction was important but even more so is to ensure that technology and politics continue to progress to ensure that we can reduce our need on oil. The lake will be lost anyway if we do not reduce carbon emissions  – it’s just going to take a little longer to be lost than if it was sold for drilling.

photo credit: Biillyboy

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