The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

3 Good Reasons to Open ANWR for Safe Development

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted November 1, 2017

Key points about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), as debate over whether to open a portion of ANWR to oil and natural gas development begins a new chapter with an important U.S. Senate hearing on Thursday:

ANWR’s energy potential is large – Alaska large

According to a 2005 review by the U.S. Geological Survey (based on the agency’s 1998 petroleum assessment) ANWR’s 1002 Area could hold between 4.3 billion and 11.8 billion barrels of crude oil. At the top end of the 20-year-old estimate, ANWR could come pretty close to the 12 billion barrels of oil produced at Prudhoe Bay over the past four decades. An up-to-date assessment could find that ANWR’s oil reserve is even larger than they thought 20 years ago. Either way, and in less technical terms, there’s a boatload of oil in ANWR.


Formal, official discussion of exploring the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for oil and natural gas resumes with a Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee hearing on the potential revenues to government that could come from oil and natural gas development in ANWR. The coastal plain holds the “largest undeveloped conventional oil resources to be found in the U.S.,” Erik Milito, API upstream and industry operations group director, told Bloomberg.

ANWR can be safely developed

While ANWR is the size of the state of South Carolina, the “1002 Area” on the refuge coastal plain identified in 1980 federal legislation is about the size of the state of Massachusetts. Legislation that has been introduced to regulate future development of ANWR would limit the total area to be occupied by surface operations to just 2,000 acres – about the size of a big-city airport. Judging by the area’s proximity to prolific Prudhoe Bay, ANWR’s energy potential likely is high.

That said, industry has a four-decade track record of safe development at Prudhoe Bay and other North Slope fields. More recent field development projects, such as ExxonMobil’s Point Thomson field not far from ANWR, or ConocoPhillips’ Alpine Field on the Colville River Delta west of Prudhoe Bay, demonstrate how the use of modern drilling and production practices can reduce surface disturbance to a fraction of the subsurface area from which oil and natural gas are produced. Caribou and other wildlife have thrived, and our companies have assembled the technologies and know-how to safely and responsibly harness some of the valuable energy in Arctic Alaska.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski plans to underscore technological advances in Arctic oil and natural gas development during a hearing to discuss potential revenues to the government from opening ANWR to exploration and production. Murkowski to E&E News:

I think it's important to show people how far we have come with the technologies that we're utilizing up north. … When you think about what has happened in a dozen years with the technology, the ability to access the resource with a limited footprint, we've got a lot to show off. And I think that's going to be an important part of the discussion because many people may be locked into yesterday's technology and views and impressions of how we can develop in our Arctic environment.”

ANWR is part of a long-term U.S. energy vision

Some question whether current market conditions would support vigorous energy development in ANWR. But it’s the wrong question. ANWR, as well as other energy reserves onshore and offshore, should be seen in a strategic context, not in a present-day market context. In other words, the energy is valuable to the United States’ long-term strategic interests.

Given ANWR’s likely energy potential and industry’s proven ability to recover that energy safely and responsibly, the important first step is to open ANWR to development, to establish it as an option alongside other potentially energy-rich areas. University of Alaska energy economist Doug Reynolds, to Bloomberg:

“No one really knows what’s in ANWR. … Why not open ANWR as an oil security back stop? It can help national security and possibly save American lives.”


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.