THE CONSTELLATION PRIZE
reimagining what engineering is for
Details on Lois Epstein's and Karlin Itchoak's work recognized by the Constellation Prize
A bird's eye view of the development scenario. Map by Marty Schnure of The Wilderness Society.
For years, federal, state, and local governmental officials and executives have downplayed the potential impacts of oil drilling on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, stating that development would be limited to a footprint of 2,000 acres – about three square miles – the legal limit in the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.
But what is not widely acknowledged is that the acreage could sprawl throughout most of the Coastal Plain, creating extensive webs of roads and infrastructure through some of its most sensitive habitats, most importantly the calving and post-calving habitat for the Porcupine Caribou Herd which is a critical subsistence resource for the Gwich’in people.
Focusing only on the permanent footprint also ignores other impacts from development such as seismic operations that would negatively affect polar bears; disturbance of bowhead whales from oil and gas vessels operating near Kaktovik; extensive use of water that would harm fish; and the destruction of wilderness.
To address the 2,000 acres claim, the realistic development scenario presented in the map below shows how oil and gas facilities could be configured across the entire Coastal Plain under the constraints imposed by Congress and the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).
Such a map was not included in the materials available for public comment, and the conservation community felt the public needed it in order to weigh-in on the proposed oil development. The Wilderness Society’s Lois Epstein, a licensed engineer in Alaska, and an industry colleague familiar with North Slope oil development developed this realistic configuration of facilities based on the FEIS, state-of-the-art drilling technology, the little that is known about where oil deposits are located, terrain and water body locations, and practical considerations for operating in the Arctic.
The number of facilities as well as the approximate locations of the four central processing facilities are consistent with what the BLM has outlined in its FEIS (Table B-5, Alternative B - preferred alternative). A particularly egregious example of downplaying the development’s impacts is below.
BLM calculates the footprint of a pipeline only using the pipeline's vertical supports touching the ground (see picture below). Under this interpretation, 100 miles of pipelines covers four acres of the 2000 acres allowed. The table below the image from the FEIS shows the extent of the infrastructure represented by 2000 acres, as interpreted by BLM.
Click here to see more information about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge using maps developed by The Wilderness Society. Click here to navigate back to the winners' profile for Epstein and Itchoak.
credit: Peter Mather