Geography professor Ren Vasiliev tours Alaskan oil

Professor Ren Vasiliev delivered a lecture yesterday entitled "Touring Alaska's Oil: Ren's Adventures in the Arctic" on behalf of the geography department.

Her talk began with the premise that she is by nature a storyteller, and the talk took the shape of a narrative rather than "an academic lecture with a bunch of facts or figures," though she ensured the audience, she has those too.

Last June, Vasiliev took a course for college teachers, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, which based itself around a trip to Alaskan oil fields. "I wanted to take this course because I wanted two things," she said. "I wanted to see how we get oil out of the ground and I wanted to put my hand in the Arctic Ocean."

The trip began in Anchorage and continued north to the British Petroleum oil fields at Prudhoe Bay. Along the way, employees from BP guided the group of college teachers.

"We're college teachers - we know when to take things with a grain of salt," Vasiliev said. "So we were listening to them like 'yeah, yeah, yeah, you're from BP,' but really they were great … There was much less propaganda than educational stuff."

Vasiliev and her group learned about crude oil and how it is separated, sending the water and gas back into the ground. They also learned about three different types of oil fields: producing, prospects, and proven but not producing.

The next proven but not producing field to be built on is called Liberty, near Endicott Island, an artificial island the group toured closely that was built to house an oil platform. In addition, BP is looking to drill at Point Thomson, right next to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They argue that current drilling technology can drill in multiple directions underground and it can therefore be done without damaging the surface of the Refuge.

Vasiliev and her group also got to speak with the oil field workers. "They were more than happy to talk to us about their work life," she said. "They loved working for BP, but didn't like the three weeks on, three weeks off system. It puts a strain on family relationships."

"Of all the trips I've been on, this was the best," said Vasiliev after the talk ended.

"I thought it was an engaging experience," said freshman Daniel Solow. "I'm going to suggest a new vacation spot to my parents now."