As the need for more resources to fuel our technology filled lives ever increases the search for more energy expands into areas that were previously thought of as impossible to exploit. these areas are often remote, extreme environments where the climate can effect how much of a resource can be exploited. this is the case for oil which is currently running so low that some sources say that in 40 years we would have used up pretty much all of the accessible oil on the planet. therefore, attention has shifted to the more inaccessible areas such as the Arctic national wildlife refuge (ANWR) in Alaska, particularly area 1002, which is an area that could be used for oil extraction, and slightly ease the burden of our stretched oil supplies.
The arctic climate presents challenges to oil extraction though. the temperatures are often well below freezing and they can fall even more with the strong arctic winds that blow across the arctic plains. Also, due to global warming the permafrost layer that covers most of the land, is melting and this can make the ground unstable and cause subsidence problems which presents a challenge when it comes to constructing buildings for workers and machinery on the ground. Due to the high latitudes of Alaska, the daylight hours an vary significantly, from being extremely long in the summer, almost to the point where the sun never sets which can make it hard for foreign workers to adjust to this, to being extremely short in the winter, where the sun only rises for a very short amount of time. the low temperatures also cause problems with fueling vehicles that are vital for maintaining communications as the areas of ANWR is very remote and far from any major towns or cities, as the temperatures are so low that fuel can freeze in the tanks.
so, the climate of ANWR can cause a lot of problems for those who want to exploit the area for oil. however, adaptations and technology has made this possible as solutions have been found to these problems. one such solution is to construct buildings on pile driven stilts, which will reduce the amount of heat that is lost from the buildings reaching the permafrost layer, and therefore reducing the chances of subsidence problems. meanwhile, larger unheated buildings are built on gravel pads to prevent the same problem. as well as this, oil pipelines are constructed on stilts and insulated in order to prevent the heat, which in excess of 80 degrees C, from damaging the permafrost layer as well. In ANWR, there has also been concerns over the migration of Caribou, which could be prevented by the oil pipelines, however this has been solved as the Trans-Alaskan pipeline or TAPS has been suspended on 3m stilts that allow the Caribou to migrate underneath the pipes. Also, as with any area that extracts oil there are risks of oil spills, and to reduce the risk of this along the TAPS line, 12 pumping stations are installed which can cut of the coil supply if a leak occurs to reduce the damage caused.
Despite these efforts to reduce the impacts on the environment, there are still huge concerns over the problems that could occur in the highly environmentally sensitive area of ANWR. the TAPS line has been argued that it will still disrupt the migration of the Caribou as they caribou are wary of the pipeline and some herds have been known to have refused to travel underneath them as planned. Also, there have still been some oil spills recently such as in February 2006 that have degraded natural habitats, and the seismic exploration that has to take place to find the oil, has disrupted animal populations across ANWR and in the Arctic ocean. the gravel that is used to insulate large buildings to prevent permafrost melt, is sourced from river beds which has led to a decline in fish populations and has damaged aquatic environments. Also there is a huge problem regarding the disposal of waste around the oil platforms, as in cold environments waste does not naturally degrade, so landfill sites often grow quickly, and any attempt to bury the waste has eased as the permafrost layer on the ground makes it extremely difficult to bury the waste. this causes problems for caribou as well, as their water supply is polluted which has caused a decrease in caribou numbers over recent years.
So, the although the exploitation of energy resources such as oil is an important one, it is one that can cause many more problems than it can solve. However, as the demand for oil increases and the prices constantly rise, perhaps we should be exploiting these vulnerable areas.
- all information used in this article was sourced from my notes i made from the content i learnt in my A level geography lessons. These notes can be found here
- Alaska’s Oil in Jeopardy (dddusmma.wordpress.com)
- Talking about ANWR (juneauempire.com)
- Energy Policy – What energy policy? (thebrennerbrief.com)