In 1989, Congress was preparing legislation that would open the1002 Area of ANWR to oil exploration, and it was predicted to sail through . However, the Exxon Valdez disaster in March of that year quickly stopped consideration ofthe legislation. The return of Republicans to power in Congress after the 1994 election saw the issue returnin Congress. President Clinton vetoed an effort to open ANWR to drilling in 1996, and the earlyyears of the Bush Administration saw several close votes on openingthe refuge to drilling. |
Ultimately, however, the environmentalistswon the argument, and ANWR has remained closed. By the time I was working on staff in the Senate, in 2006, theissue had become ritualized. Everyone knew how each Senator wasgoing to vote on an annual vote, Senator Ted Stevens would get very angry, but the legislation would ultimately fail.Since the 2010 mid-term elections, House Republicans have includedan opening of ANWR in their drilling bills, but the DemocraticSenate has not even taken them up, and President Obama would veto them. Offshore Drilling in Alaska s North Slope Since 2007, a warming Arctic sea has seen dramatic reductions insummer sea ice.
This has allowed energy companies like Shell tocontemplate how to extract some of the 22% of the world sundiscovered energy resources that the US Geological Surveyestimates are under the Arctic Sea. Shell is preparing to send exploration ships to the Chuckchi andBeaufort Seas this summer to explore for oil. They have receivedpermission from the EPA and Department of Interior, and are awaiting permits from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service . While these are expected to go through, we should expect to seesome significant litigation between now and then. Shell plans tobring about 30 ships and over 500 people to handle the explorationoperations.
The U.S. Coast Guard , too, will operate a full-time presence in the Arctic this summerfor the first time, with a Cutter on patrol at each of the drillingsites. There will be more people off that stretch of beachfront over 1000 miles from the nearest deepwater port than probablyhas ever been there. I understand that the sea floor in this area is fairly shallow, sothe technical problems of drilling at high depth that we all becamefamiliar with during the Deepwater Horizon disaster will not be there.
Instead, we will see entirelydifferent threats, like surface ice and severe storms. Shell hasexperience operating in Russia s Sea of Okhotsk , but this will remain an extreme environment. If all goes well, Shell anticipates that the first production ofoil will begin in less than ten years, and peak production will beabout 1.7 million barrels of oil per day. Blocking ANWR Production led to Offshore Drilling Notably, that production figure for offshore oil will be justenough to bring the TAPS back up to full capacity. I believe thatif exploration in ANWR had not been blocked, there would not be apush to drill offshore.
With new oil pumping through the pipeline,there would not have been enough capacity to accommodate offshoredrilling as well. However, as it is now, offshore drilling is theonly way to increase capacity to meet the capacity limits of thepipeline. So long as this already existing infrastructure is notfully utilized, there will be pressure, both from oil companies andfrom Alaska s politicians, to fill the pipeline.
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