The search and exploration of energy in the U.S. has been a blessing in disguise as it has been welcomed by parties on one side but refuted by others on the other hand. 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 cases in point. 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 1960 when 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 U.S. 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 reserves resources in the inland states.
The proponents of oil drilling mention economic benefits as a reason for pushing ahead with the proposal. They say that if America explores its own oil resources, equilibrium of trade will be boosted making the U.S. 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 as even increased tension: The Yucca Mountains.
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, decommissioning, 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 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 U.S. until 2025.When Yucca Mountains is full, another geologic repository will be identified. Several feasibility studies on the geology of the Yucca Mountain have been conducted courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).The findings have shown that the site 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, Congress approved the choice of the Yucca Mountains.
The naysayers think that the Yucca Mountain site-145km (90miles) northwest of Las Vegas-is near 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 Mountains. 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 some 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 through 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 cost approximately US $635 million; its construction cost US $ 231 million.
The Three Gorges Dam (TDG)
A 632 km (412 miles) long reservoir found on the Yangtze River, the Three Gorges Dam is so called because it floods three upstream gorges. Its main reason for installation was to provide hydroelectric power.
To begin with, the advantages of the TDG are numerous. It yields 18 GW of electric power which is the equivalent of a large coal or 18 nuclear power plants. Further, downstream floods are prevented leading to a boost to agricultural productivity. Moreover, the movement of large ships upstream is enabled on the one hand while recreation and commercial fishing is possible on the other hand. However, the negative ramifications of dam building cannot be belittled. The already extinct dolphin species of the Yangtze Rivers are endangered; at least 1.5 million citizens face displacement sometimes with little or no compensation; and submergence of canyon wall writings and historical and cultural treasures and pollution of the river by industrial wastes and contaminated sites during flooding. Even though agricultural productivity has improved downstream, arable land in the upstream region has been submerged thus affecting agriculture. More disadvantages are seen into the growing number of waterborne diseases like schistosomiasis and malaria. The setting up of the dam has not been an easy feat as getting investors has been mired by lack of clarification on design, construction and effectiveness. Sedimentation of the dam has also proved to be an impediment to reasons for its installation like irrigation and hydropower.
In order to protect natural resources, animal and plan life, the conservationists propose that the government should invest in renewable energy sources (green technology) as the sustainable solution to the energy problem. Such technology includes the solar energy and other indirect solar energy sources like wind, ocean waves and temperature gradients in the deep sea. It is speculated that in the future it may be possible to produce power as a result of ocean temperature gradients. Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) is the technology that will take advantage of the temperature gradient in the deep seas and oceans to cool buildings and produce electricity. A case in point is the ongoing construction of the OTEC plant at Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority on the islands of Hawaii.