The payoff for drilling in the Arctic could be huge. In order to run society, new oil fields must be developed to maintain the supply. A field this large could provide jobs in Alaska and make the U.S. more energy independent.
Just how rich the prize is remains to be seen. A 2005 review by the U.S. Geological Survey, based on decades-old data, said ANWR may hold as many as 11.8 billion barrels of crude. If that were proven true, it would rival the mammoth Prudhoe Bay field that sparked the Alaskan oil rush 40 years ago, the kind of elephant-sized find that would generate income for decades. That could appeal to companies looking to balance the short lifespans of shale fields and the risks of operating in more politically fraught parts of the globe.
Opponents say the oil needs to stay in the ground. If something goes wrong in the Arctic, the impact would be significantly worse—extreme conditions would complicate clean up efforts and possibly make them completely ineffective. At a higher level, an oil development would be contribute to climate change. To have any hope of slowing and stopping climate change, the oil must stay in the ground.
Extreme weather, less daylight, lack of infrastructure, and the sheer remoteness of the drilling area also complicate spill response times. Arriving to a spill or leakage site with skimmers, booms, and the like could take much longer in the isolated Arctic. According to a 2014 report by the National Research Council, the U.S. Coast Guard has little presence in the Arctic and would have serious issues responding to an oil spill — a major concern, considering the extreme cold, high winds, and powerful storms that can materialize with little notice. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ “USCG personnel, equipment, transportation, communication, navigation, and safety resources needed for oil spill response are not adequate for overseeing oil spill response in the Arctic,” the report states, “and the Coast Guard’s efforts to support Arctic oil spill planning and response in the absence of a dedicated and adequate budget are admirable but inadequate.”