Expanded Alaska drilling expected

Alaska's oil pipeline under Northern Lights

TEXT OF STORY

BRIAN WATT: We've all heard of ANWR, but just west of the reserve lies a vast area of unprotected wetlands that the Department of the Interior is expected to open to oil drilling this week. It's one of the most easily accessible untapped oil reserves in the nation. But like ANWR, it's also considered environmentally sensitive. Recent news of corroding pipelines in Prudhoe Bay have many questioning whether drilling there is worth the risk. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk Sam Eaton reports.


SAM EATON: The department of Interior estimates 8 million acres in and around Lake Teshekpuk could hold some two billion barrels of recoverable oil.

Oppenheimer and Co. oil analyst Fadel Gheit doubts those figures, but he says with today's technology and high oil prices it doesn't take much to make a new drilling project worthwhile.

FADEL GHEIT: We don't have to hit a grand slam first at bat. We can win the game winning singles and doubles.

But environmentalists say long term costs to the area's rich ecosystem outweigh any short-term boost to domestic oil supplies.

Especially when you consider the track record for North Slope drilling says Alaska Coalition's Aurah Landau.

AURAH LANDAU: There are chronic problems including well failures, oil spills, toxic dumping, air pollution, worker safety violations. And the BP shutdown, frankly, is just sort of the rest of the country realizing what's happening up here.

Landau says there's a reason that even the Reagan administration kept this area off limits.

I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.

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