What is Your Vision of Wilderness?

A guest post by Jeff Jones, landscape photographer

I spent part of July 2005 photographing the oil fields in and around Prudhoe Bay as well as the beautiful coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I photographed from the air and from the ground, although I was unable to gain access on the ground to the Prudhoe Bay fields due to very high security restrictions established after 9/11.

What did I see?

Prudhoe Bay Oil Field

The coastal area within which the oil industry works is huge, roughly one thousand square miles of interconnecting roads, pipelines, drilling pads and clustered facilities. There are 27 producing oil fields within this massive industrial web. These fields contain thousands of producing wells, loud generators, landfills, airports, roads, and many feeder pipelines.

In my oil field photos I wanted to give a sense of the size of buildings and the development footprint. To this end, many of my photos include an item such as a truck, doorway or stairway for proportion. However, these items are often hard to find because they are dwarfed by the towering buildings and heavy equipment.

On our one clear day of flying, a fat layer of smog was visible. I was disturbed to know that such air pollution exists on our nation’s most northerly and remote coast. This smog is significant, given that it exists without being trapped in a basin.

While I didn’t see major oil leaks, spills or ground pollution, policing of the industry’s operations needs to continue given their track record. Each year hundreds of oil spills are reported on the North Slope.

What did I come away with?

Camden Bay Birds

I photographed the North Slope to show what oil development in the Arctic looks like and to help others visualize what is at stake with regard to the 1002 area. Congress established the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in part for its “wilderness value.” Does your vision of wilderness include gravel pads and gravel pits, raised roads and pipelines, huge buildings, smog, trucks throwing up enormous clouds of dust, and the bright “torches” of excess natural gas that ignite with sounds as deafening as jet engines?