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October 14th, 2008
10:26 AM ET

"Drill Baby Drill" – A whale of a problem

Editor’s note: CNN’s award-winning Planet in Peril returns this year to examine the conflict between growing populations and natural resources. Anderson Cooper, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and Lisa Ling travel to the front lines of this worldwide battle. Ling has been a co-host of The View, correspondent for The Oprah Winfrey Show, National Geographic and Channel One. She filed this blog from Alaska

Lisa Ling
AC360° Special Correspondent

Arrived in Anchorage, Alaska yesterday. The burning question I had for everyone I encountered was what people really thought of Governor Palin. But since that question is not germane to the reason why I’m here, I shall refrain from writing about what those conversations entailed.

Almost immediately upon arrival, we set off to interview the General Manager of Shell operations in Alaska. He stressed the vital importance of drilling off shore in the Alaskan Arctic, as it is potentially a source that could reduce our reliance upon foreign oil. When I asked him if the result would be a temporary one, he said, “ we can’t know until we’re actually allowed to drill.”

He was referring to a pending lawsuit between local Inupiat communities and environmental groups who charge that among other things, that seismic activity produced by Shell’s measurement attempts could affect migrations patterns of bowhead whales. This is significant because bowhead whales are the main source of food for the Inupiat population that has relied on it for centuries.

The oil rich, North Slope of Alaska is sparsely populated, but seeped in tradition. Bowhead whales are an intimate part of the region’s indigenous culture. The bulk of its $98 million dollar budget comes from taxing its onshore oil operations. To travel from Anchorage to Barrow—the northernmost city to which airplanes fly—we had to make two stops in other cites. The flight was filled with rugged looking oil workers who spend about two weeks per month laboring in the most challenging conditions. The potentially abundant oil reserve has Americans chomping at the bit to drill to alleviate our reliance on foreign oil.

We finally landed in a place so remote and cold my Blackberry service ceased to function upon arrival in Barrow. I was outside for 3 minutes before my hands lost all color and turned green. My crew immediately rushed to the only store in town where the little California girl had to stock up on much warmer gear. Pathetic I know.

To say this is rough terrain would be to grossly understate how challenging it is. Shell has made a huge investment and is banking on the fact that the off shore potential will pay off huge. If they are able to finally drill here, it won’t be without a much longer fight.


Filed under: Lisa Ling • Planet in Peril
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Mary V., Salt Lake City, UT

    Another great article! Thank you, Lisa Ling! We are going to have to change our greedy ways, from the way we rack up debt on Credit Cards to the way we drive!

    We, Americans, have been living on borrowed time. We have been living in denial, that the world's climate is changing; that we have all the money in the world....... when, thanks to Bush/Cheney/McCain the National Dent has almost TRIPLED while they have been in office!

    We need to take a breath and learn for the economic crisis and ALSO from the ecological crisis we have to deal with!

    We can not afford to life in denial any longer. I think "drill, baby. drill" is the most ignorant statement a politician has ever uttered!

    October 14, 2008 at 5:17 pm |
  2. Donna

    AC, We want to know more about AIP that sarah palin and hubby are involved with.How could John McCain pick someone who pals around with people who say DAMN THE AMERICAN FLAG? I'm sure they wanted this story to stay hidden but we have the right to know.This is worst then Bill Ayers story.My God this is our Flag .You have to wonder if John McCain is involved with AIP to. GOD BLESS AMERICA AND OUR FLAG

    October 14, 2008 at 5:14 pm |
  3. Betty, Virginia

    I thought I had heard this summer that there are large supplies of oil in N. Dakota that have been untapped. Surely it makes more sense to drill in fields vs a frozen tundra/offshore. Hopefully our new president will push the non-oil solutions we need in this country. Greed seems to be the main motivator in Alaska.

    October 14, 2008 at 4:27 pm |
  4. Suze

    I think the government should mandate that 25% of the profit from all drilling and oil sales by American companies go to fund research and development of alternative safe clean fuel like solar! The sun sends its energy to us and no drilling, no destruction of the earth would be needed to tap that clean safe source...why oh why is so little done in solar. I have a chemical engineering degree and considered going for a PhD in it but I couldn't find any decent solar energy research being done in academia for a PhD so I went into industry doing other things... why not more money being put into solar energy research?? Are the oil companies secretly stopping that??? And I use to own a Honday CRX high fuel economy model and got 50 city and as much as 60 highway when it was new around 20 years ago now, and now my new Civic only gets around 25mpg... why aren't more cars made like that CRX, granted its a 2 seater but for young people or single people or as Dad or Mom's going to work car, its the best car I ever had... why doesn't Honda make that fuel economy car again? And why doesn't the government mandate that technology that kept it so fuel efficient for X percentage of cars?

    October 14, 2008 at 4:18 pm |
  5. MIKE LAKE WORTH FLORIDA

    I hate to say it but the way we take care of our planet is criminal. I do'nt have any kids, so by the time things really start going south I'll either be dead or close to it. Good luck to all the people with children and their drill baby drill mentality. Were going to leave a waste land to future generations because of how short sighted we are.

    October 14, 2008 at 4:10 pm |
  6. Molly B.

    Are Palin and McCain in Shell's pocket? How could she turn against
    the natives and scream "drill baby drill"? There are other places to
    drill. What happened to Pickens idea for wind energy? Why help
    the oil companies? Why? I'm old enough to know the answer to
    that!
    Our state of Iowa has many wind towers – and more to come.

    October 14, 2008 at 2:16 pm |
  7. KLEE

    Thank you Nacgdoches, TX!! I Absolutely agree!! let us sit down and think for a minute. must we make the whole planet into our human garbage dump – fit for nothing beautiful and free – I live in the lower 48 and – and dread every new project (housing housing housing – roads roads roads) where do all those "squashed animals" on the roads have to go now! I live in perpetual sadness – and see that it seems that few really care. Those that do are called tree huggers etc. we need to be kinder to our planet and to each other!! Money isn't everything! I ought to know because I don't hardly have any ;) peace and harmony to all.

    October 14, 2008 at 1:37 pm |
  8. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Alaskans are the only ones that receive money from the oil drilling but we all pay taxes for oil drilling. Does this mean we will all become beneficiaries to receive money from the oil drilling which we pay for? I think we that don't live in Alaska have been totally ripped off.

    October 14, 2008 at 1:34 pm |
  9. Larry

    Well, we sure did a lot under the guise of 'eminent domain'.

    October 14, 2008 at 1:26 pm |
  10. Betty Ann, Nacgdoches,TX

    SAVE THE WHALES! This is why the whole world hates us. We are greedy and exploitative. We commodify everything God has created under the sun, or more correctly a depleting ozone. We have destroyed and killed to have our way on this planet.
    When it comes right down to it, we don't let God's magnificent creatures stop us from having what we want. Hell, we even commodify human beings to get what we want. The Native Americans, slaves, people in prison for non-violent crimes, and war that kills thousands.
    That is the American way. Aren't we proud to be the most powerful nation on earth? So many have to suffer for our lifestyle. It is no wonder the whole world hates us.
    When will we learn? We have certainly failed the test so far.I hope it is not too late~

    October 14, 2008 at 12:47 pm |
  11. sharon from Indy

    Lisa/AC360:
    The United States burns 25 percent of the world's oil. On the other hand, we only have three percent of the world's proven oil reserves. Also, isn't most of the oil produced in Alaska sold to Japan and Southeast Asia?

    The Bush Administration said drilling for oil now won't be productive for 10 years.

    Wait a minute! We consume 25 percent and have 3 percent. Is drilling or constructing a pipe line necessary but only in 10 years.

    We need to find other energy solutions without desiccating the pristine land of Alaska, violating the customs of Inupiat or disrupting the natural rhythm of our oceans.

    I look forward to your full report on Planet in Peril.

    October 14, 2008 at 12:37 pm |
  12. Tina

    We are not only drilling in Alaska. Mexico is a vital source and I think that is why oil is dropping. The demand is there.

    October 14, 2008 at 12:16 pm |
  13. kishen c.rao

    off shore drilling is totally and utterly bad idea...why, it doesnot produce 3 percent of oil...for 10 years...instead we need to cut down on driving...prices come down...inflation come down...obama is darn right in this...search for alternative sources to run the cars...fossil fuels, ethanal etc, solar...we need these things...drill baby drill goes to ABUSE OF POWER IN TROOPER CASE...OK, IT IS TOTALLY RIDICULOUS THINGS WE DO....OOKAY....god bless our great nation, the usa...cut down on influx of foreigners...that means, stringent immigration laws implimented...i have no time to talk elaboratively..ok...i am busy now...

    October 14, 2008 at 11:33 am |
  14. Annie Kate

    Too bad that Shell and the other oil companies don't take the money they are spending on legal fees, etc. and sink it into research and development of alternate forms of energy to power our cars, trucks, etc. and to provide our electricity. We need to be cautious on what we do in the environment not just in the Arctic and Alaska but everywhere – some consequences of man's actions, the environment cannot recover from.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    October 14, 2008 at 11:24 am |
  15. Thomas

    California Girl ,
    Send more images ! How's the food?
    Ask the Shell rep about any climate changes .
    Great work.

    October 14, 2008 at 11:11 am |
  16. Phyllis - Florida

    With all the places they already have lined up to drill in, leave the whales to the indigenous culture! Must we take every last scrap of earth available for drilling.
    Look how the rain forests are vanishing with the flora and fauna that will never be replaced and possibly hold cures for who knows what ailments of mankind, not to mention the damage to the atmosphere and contribution to global warming, with all that burning!
    Man will destroy this planet yet, with our insatiable greed, we are terrible stewards of our natural world. The older I get, the more I dispair of the future of this planet.

    October 14, 2008 at 11:00 am |