Royal Dutch Shell has invested more than $5 billion in its quest to drill for oil off Alaska's Arctic coast, a frontier exploration gamble that only a handful of energy firms in the world could afford. As 2013 begins with Shell's Arctic drillship, the Kulluk, aground off the coast of Kodiak Island -- the latest in a series of missteps that have plagued the company's inaugural drilling season -- Americans once again are debating whether offshore oil drilling is worth the risks, particularly in a place so remote and perilous.
With Congress threatening to investigate Shell's Kulluk fiasco (check out other recent public relations disasters here and here), perhaps it's time reconsider other oil and gas plays in Alaska, on land, near infrastructure, yet off limits for generations -- on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Between 5.7 billion and 16 billion barrels of oil could lie beneath Alaska's onshore coastal plain. Yet environmental groups have successfully lobbied Congress and Democratic administrations to keep ANWR off-limits to oil exploration for generations.
As global warming accelerates the retreat of Arctic ice across the circumpolar north, why risk new and untested drilling technologies in a pristine ocean ecosystem instead of allowing on-land oil drilling to proceed?
Alaska Dispatch explored the nuances of this trade off earlier this year in our special series, Arctic offshore vs. ANWR. Here's some light reading to inform your opinion.