This is long, so if you want to see exactly what the report says instead of looking at we say about it, the report is also available directly from the National Research Council as follows:

Press Release:
Summary (4 pages)
Full Report (viewable on screen and searchable but you cannot print or download it):
Briefing as Real Player:

The report documents significant environmental and cultural effects that have accumulated as the result of three decades of oil development on Alaska 's North Slope. Industrial activity has transformed what once was part of the largest intact wilderness area in the United States into a complex of oilfields and their interconnecting roads and pipelines that stretches over 1,000 square miles. Many important effects on animals and vegetation extend well beyond the actual "footprint" of development. New technologies have reduced some effects, but despite this, the committee concluded that expansion into new areas is certain to exacerbate existing effects and generate new ones (21).

While no economic assessment of the environmental costs of oil development on the North Slope has been done (232), the report estimates that the costs of removing facilities and restoring habitat will run in the billions of dollars (155). No money has been set aside for this purpose by either the oil companies or the government. Because natural recovery in the arctic is slow, effects caused by unrestored facilities are likely to persist for centuries (16).


Bowhead whale migrations have been displaced by the intense noise of seismic exploration offshore. Spilled oil poses a great potential threat to bowhead whales due to their specific morphological characteristics. (164).

The reproductive success of some bird species in the oilfields has been reduced to the point where some oil-field populations are likely maintained only by immigration from more productive "source" habitats elsewhere (200). An important consequence of this phenomenon is that loss of such "source" habitats can threaten the viability of a population even though most of the habitat occupied by the species in region remains relatively intact. The location of important source habitat for birds or other species is not well characterized for the North Slope. Thus, the spread of industrial development into new areas could result in unexpected species declines, even though total habitat loss might be modest (158, 253).

Some denning polar bears have been disturbed by industrial activities. Though limited development offshore has taken place to date, full scale industrial development offshore would displace polar bears and ringed seals from their habitats, increase mortality, and decrease their reproductive success. Predicted climate change is likely to have serious effects on polar bears and ringed seals that will accumulate with those related to oil development (169).


Although industrial development has not resulted in a long-term decline in the Central Arctic Herd (the herd most affected by current oil development), the Committee concluded that by itself is not a sufficient measure of whether adverse effects have occurred (185). Female caribou exposed to oilfield activity and infrastructure produced fewer calves, and following years when insect harassment was high, that effect increased, which may have depressed herd size. The spread of industrial activity into other areas that caribou use for calving and relief from insects, especially to the east where the coastal plain is narrower than elsewhere, would likely result in reductions in reproductive success. (15, 254).

The Porcupine herd, which calves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, has the lowest growth capacity of the four arctic herds and the least capacity to resist natural and human-caused stress (187). Higher insect activity associated with climate warming could counteract any benefits of reduced surface development by increasing the frequency with which caribou encounter infrastructure (187).

Development "Footprint"

Development has directly affected 17,000 acres spread across an area roughly the size of the land area of Rhode Island. Of this, 9,000 acres are covered by gravel, excluding TAPS, the Haul Road and facilities in NPRA (64,65, 70). The environmental effects of oil development are not limited to the "footprint" (actual area covered by a structure), but occur at distances that vary depending on the environmental component affected, from a few miles (animals), to much farther (visual effects and seismic effects on whales) (8 and 15).

Climate change and new technologies

Climate change will continue to affect the usefulness of many oilfield technologies and how they affect the environment (8). For example, the length of the winter season when seismic and other off road tundra travel is permitted, and ice roads and pads are constructed, has been steadily decreasing since the 1970's (137 and 138). The coastline of the North Slope is presently eroding at a rate of 8 feet per year, the fastest rate of coastline erosion in the United States, and this will accelerate with climate change (95).


Oil development has compromised wilderness values over 1,000 square miles of the North Slope. The potential for further loss is at least as great as what has already occurred as development expands into new areas (239). Roads, pads, pipelines, seismic vehicle tracks, transmission lines, air, ground and vessel traffic, drilling activities, and other industrial activities and infrastructure have eroded wilderness values over an area that is far larger than the area of direct effects (227).`Most analyses of wilderness effects conducted by the government are cursory, out of date, or both, and none has used new techniques for measuring wilderness values, or attempted to coordinate wilderness assessment or planning among different jurisdictions (229).

Economic costs of Environmental Effects

There have been no economic valuation studies of the effects of oil development on the physical, biological, or human environment on the North Slope (232). As a result, the full cost of oil development on Alaska's North Slope has not been assessed, quantified, or incorporated into decisions that affect use of public land (233). Incorporation of environmental costs into an overall economic assessment of development would alter projections of economically recoverable oil and gas on public land on the North Slope. For example, the U.S. Geological Survey periodically estimates the amount of recoverable oil in various areas of federally owned land on the North Slope. In doing so, the USGS generally projects the amount of oil that is "economically recoverable" from these lands given a particular price of oil and given a set of costs associated with development and transportation. By not fully accounting for environmental costs in its projections, the USGS underestimates the cost of development, which in turn inflates the amount of oil considered economically recoverable at a given market price (234).


Hundreds of spills occur each year in the oilfields, but to date they have not been large enough or frequent enough for their effects to have accumulated. Offshore, the industry has not demonstrated the ability to clean up more than a small fraction of oil spilled in marine waters, especially when broken ice is present (15).

Air pollution

Not enough information is available to provide a quantitative baseline of spatial and temporal trends in air quality over long periods across the North Slope, and little research has been done to quantify effects. More than 70,000 tons of NOx, are emitted each year by industrial facilities on the North Slope, along with thousands of tons of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic hydrocarbons, and millions of tons of carbon dioxide (66). Even though air quality meets national ambient air quality standards, it is not clear that those standards are sufficient to protect arctic vegetation (141).

Lack of restoration

Only about 100 acres (1%) of the habitat affected by gravel fill on the North Slope have been restored (15). The Committee concluded that unless major changes occur, it is unlikely that most disturbed habitat on the North Slope will ever be restored (16). Because natural recovery in the arctic is slow, effects of unrestored structures are likely to persist for centuries, and will accumulate as new structures are added (16).


Decisions about development on the North Slope have generally been made one case at a time, in the absence of a comprehensive plan and regulatory strategy that identifies the scope, intensity, direction, and consequences of industrial activities judged appropriate and desirable (17). Similarly, the minimal rehabilitation of disturbed habitat has occurred without an overall plan to identify land-use goals, objectives to achieve them, performance criteria, or monitoring requirements. Little consideration has been given to how future trajectories of development would be viewed by different groups, including North Slope residents (241). In addition, as indicated above, the full cost of oil development on Alaska's North Slope has not been assessed, quantified, or incorporated into decisions that affect use of public land.

Winter off-road seismic exploration and ice roads

The Committee estimates that more than 32,000 miles of seismic trails, receiver trails, and camp-move trails were created between 1990 and 2001, an annual average of 2,900 miles each year (154). If current trends continue, some 30,000-line miles will be surveyed on the North Slope over the next decade. These trails produce a serious accumulating visual effect and can damage vegetation and cause erosion. Data do not exist to determine the period that the damage will persist, but some effects are known to have lasted for several decades.(252). Seismic exploration is expanding westward into the western arctic and the foothills, where the hilly topography increases the likelihood that vehicles will damage vegetation (252). The use of ice roads and pads has increased and will continue to do so, but little information is available on how long effects persist.

Regulatory issues

The report did not evaluate the adequacy of existing regulations. However in the course of the review, a number of issues arose. Examples include the following.

Protecting the tundra from winter off road travel

DNR permits tundra travel for seismic camps where there is an average of 6" of snow and 12" of frozen soil, which the committee concluded are not based on scientific evidence (154). The only published study of seismic disturbance in relation to snow cover suggests that disturbance occurs at snow depths of 10"-28" of snow. In addition, the use of AVERAGE snowpack and frost thickness by regulatory agencies does not take into account differences in snow cover across different land forms or across the slope.


Fewer than 1% of Corps permits contain restoration requirements, and those don't generally include specific standards, requirements for long term monitoring, or performance criteria (147). Only 6 of the 1,179 permits issued by the Corps require the re-use of gravel. The Corps does not have an estimate of the area affected by permits it has issued.


Existing data on groundwater suggests that sub-permafrost groundwater may meet the regulatory definition of a drinking water source more commonly than thought. No testing of groundwater is required prior to waste injection (115-116).

Water withdrawals

Water withdrawals from fish-bearing lakes for purposes such as building ice roads and pads are limited to 15% of the estimated minimum winter water volume. The committee cited the lack of data to support this criterion, which it terms arbitrary (206). For fishless lakes, there were no restrictions on removal of water as of late 2002; all unfrozen water from such lakes can be drained. The effects of such complete withdrawals have not been evaluated (247).