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Comment: Alaska oil and gas project won't make a big difference

Denying the go-ahead for the Willow oil and gas project on the North Slope of Alaska will not bring any automobiles to a standstill through a lack of fuel in six years time, because the world is awash with oil.
This 2019 photo provided by ConocoPhillips shows an exploratory drilling camp at the proposed site of the Willow oil project on Alaska's North Slope. The Biden administration approved the massive oil development in northern Alaska on Monday, March 13, 2023. (ConocoPhillips via AP)

A commentary by an unrepentant oilman with experience in Nigeria, Venezuela, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden — and British Columbia. He lives in Victoria.

The environmental community is up in arms about U.S. President Joe Biden’s approval of the Willow oil and gas project on the North Slope of Alaska.

The main opposition arises from the notion that developing this oil field contributes to global warming, because the 600 million barrels of oil that may be developed could provide fuel for cars , starting in five or six years time when the first well might come on stream.

Conoco-Phillips believe that the 600 million barrels can be extracted within 30 years.

There are a number of conditional statements in the above summary, as the careful reader may notice.

The main argument is not that the project itself generates greenhouse gases, though that almost certainly will happen, but this pales into insignificance compared with the greenhouse gases that will be emitted by the vehicles that in future will burn these hydrocarbons.

There are other pros and cons — Indigenous communities that stand to benefit and indigenous communities that may be adversely affected.

In terms of policy makers: winner and losers. The project will generate tax revenue that can help dealing with the losers. But let me return to the environment argument, which is absurd.

Whether this project goes ahead or not has minimal impact on climate related issues. Denying the go-ahead will not bring any automobiles to a standstill through a lack of fuel in six years time, because the world is awash with oil.

According to BP’s annually published statistical data, world reserves of oil is about 1,732 billion barrels. World annual production is 28 billion barrels.

Therefore, the world has on its books a guaranteed supply of oil good for 61 years at current consumption levels, assuming that no exploration for more oil takes place anywhere in the world. Just let those existing oil wells flow!

Let us eliminate confusion about magnitudes by converting the Willow project to comparable units: the extraction of 0.6 billion barrels over a 30-year period at a rate of about 0.072 billion barrels per year.

This is a rounding error in relationship to the BP data. It’s like counting the number of fairies that can dance on the head of a pin.

The idea that all exploration work worldwide should or can be halted is of course absurd. We do not have a global dictatorship that could impose such a draconian measure.

And let’s not forget, the target of Willow project opprobrium is only indirectly related to the so-called strategic objective: save the world by eliminating the internal combustion engine, by denying the car owner fuel.

If the world is really determined to reduce hydrocarbon consumption, a good start would be to outlaw the internal combustion engine. Outlaw hydrocarbon consumption, in other words.

But that is not what the protesters are hoping to achieve.

As Aristophanes would have it, this is stuff of Cloud cuckoo land.

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