The search and exploration of energy in the US has been a blessing in disguise as it has been welcomed by parties on one side, but refuted by others on the other. The proponents have economical gains in mind, while the naysayers have the environmental risks in mind. There are many case studies that have been done, but this paper will consider just some of those. These include the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Yucca Mountain and the Three Gorges Dam.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Since 1980, oil exploration at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been a bone of contention. Apart from accommodating wildlife, the refuge is near Prudhoe Bay where large oil deposits have been located and tapping of this valued resource is ongoing (over 14 billion barrels produced). The declining amount of oil reserves in Prudhoe Bay has prompted a search for new oil deposits, like the nearby Arctic National Wild Refuge. The history of this animal sanctuary dates back to 1960s when the congress declared its protection because of its wildlife. However, the department of the interior received permission to explore the oil potential of this animal rendezvous which was not to be for about five years.
In 1994, half of the oil consumed by the US was imported resulting into a proposition for oil drilling in the refuge. Even though the department of the interior noted that this would harm the ecosystem, the proposition was vetoed by the House of Representatives and senate. Later on in 2005, the senate was of a contrary opinion to the drilling of oil, although President George W. Bush was for the proposition earlier on in 2001. In 2008, the republican made it a top agenda to develop the Alaskan oil reserve resources in the inland states.
The proponents of oil drilling mention economic benefits as a reason for pushing ahead the proposal. They say that if America explores its own oil resources, equilibrium of trade will be boosted, making the US less dependent on foreign oil reserves.
The naysayers, on the other hand, would want to protect this so called ‘American Serengeti’, since it is a hub for a variety of animal species like arctic foxes, musk oxen, polar bear, snow gees, wolverine and Dall sheep. It also forms a base for the reproduction of the huge migrating herd of the caribou, plants like lichens, grasses, mosses, dwarf shrubs and sedges. All these organisms have undergone much to adapt to their tundra environment and, thus, any imbalance brought by external forces would jeopardize their survival. While oil drilling is eliciting debate on the Arctic National Wildlife refuge, another natural resource has even greater tension: The Yucca Mountain.
Another source of energy that has raised many eyebrows is the nuclear power. After reaching its peak operational usefulness, a nuclear power plant is closed either by entombment, storage or decommissioning. The later option entails dismantling the plant by workers who wear protective clothing. The small sections of the plant are then transported to a repository for storage.
The 1987 Nuclear Waste Policy Act amendment saw congress single out the Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a permanent underground repository for high-level radioactive wastes. The proponents estimate that the Yucca Mountain can store 42,000-plus tons of the radioactive matters produced in the US until 2025. When Yucca Mountain is full, another geologic repository will be identified. Several feasibility studies on the geology of the Yucca Mountain have been conducted courtesy of the US Department of Energy (DOE). The findings have shown that it is at least safe from earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. However, cost and public opposition have arisen as the setbacks. Notwithstanding the vehement opposition by the state of Nevada, the Congress approved the choice of the Yucca Mountain.
The naysayers think that the Yucca Mountain - 145km (90miles) northwest of Las Vegas - is near the active earthquake fault lines and a volcano, even though the last eruption may have taken place some 20,000 years ago. They fear that an earthquake may cause a rise in the water table leading to a contamination of the ground water and air. This was confirmed in 1992 when an earthquake of magnitude 5.6 occurred approximately 20km (12miles) from the Yucca Mountain. On the other hand, most of the gainsayers think that the change in water level caused by the disturbance is inconsiderable since the water table is 800m (2625ft) below the crest of the mountain.
In addition, the naysayers fear that the transportation of the high-level wastes over a distance averaging 2300 miles across 43 states to the Yucca Mountain, would put the health of the nearby population at risk. A staggering 8 states will bear the brunt of the radioactive material. The decommissioning is also an expensive process which causes a rise in utility bills. For instance, the Maine Yankee decommissioning costs approximately US $635 million; its construction costs US $ 231 million.