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Senate Supports Drilling in Alaskan Refuge

Interestingly, the Senate voted for opening ANWR by voting against a measure to strip ANWR drilling out of a budget bill. While it seems a strange way to approve something, this vote pretty much clears the way for opening ANWR, at least as far as congress is concerned.

Senate Supports Drilling in Alaskan Refuge

By H. JOSEF HEBERT Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press
Mar. 17, 2005 - After nearly a quarter century of trying, the advocates for opening an Alaska wildlife refuge to oil drilling may finally be close to achieving their goal.

A majority of the Senate on Wednesday declared its support for allowing oil companies into the 1.5 million acre coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where billions of barrels of crude oil are believe to rest beneath the tundra.

More importantly, the Senate assured that any Alaska refuge drilling provision would be linked to the budget process, depriving opponents of using a filibuster to block action a tactic that has been used repeatedly over the years to stymie ANWR drilling proposals.

An attempt Wednesday by Democrats to take the issue out of the budget process failed when they could muster only 49 votes against 51 votes by drilling supporters.

It was a major victory for President Bush, who has made access to the refuge's oil a key part of his energy agenda.

"This project will keep our economy growing by creating jobs and ensuring that businesses can expand," the president said in a statement. "And it will make America less dependent on foreign sources of energy, eventually by up to a million barrels of oil a day."

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who has fought unsuccessfully for 24 years to open the Alaska refuge to oil companies, conceded it could still be "a long process" before a final drilling measure clears Congress. Lawmakers must agree on the final budget, something they failed to do last year, or Wednesday's vote will have been for naught.

But Stevens and other drilling advocates also hailed Wednesday's vote as "a big step" and a clear signal that drilling opponents will have a difficult time stopping the measure in this Congress. The House repeatedly has approved oil drilling in the refuge, only to have its efforts neutralized in the Senate.

A similar attempt to use the budget process to open the refuge failed by three votes two years ago.

But that was before Republicans expanded their majority in November, adding a number of GOP senators who favor drilling. Only seven Republicans bucked their party Wednesday and voted with most Democrats against opening the refuge.

Environmentalists said while the vote was disappointing, they weren't giving up the fight.

"The battle is far from over," said Lexi Keogh of the Alaska Wilderness League. She said environmentalists will push to keep the ANWR provision out of a final budget document.

"It only strengthens our resolve to protect America's most pristine national wildlife refuge for our children's future," said Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation.

The oil industry has sought for a quarter century to gain access to the refuge, believing there could be as much oil there as was found in neighboring Prudhoe Bay fields that now are in decline. Government geologists have estimated a likely reserve of as much as 10.4 billion barrels in ANWR's 1.5 million acre coastal plain.

Environmentalists have compared the refuge to the Serengeti in Africa, which abounds with wildlife, and maintain that oil development would lead to a web of drilling platforms, pipelines and roads that would adversely impact the calving grounds of caribou, polar bears and millions of migratory birds that use the refuge's coastal plain.

"The fact is (drilling) is going to be destructive," Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said during debate on the issue Wednesday.

Kerry and other drilling opponents argued that more oil would be saved than ANWR could produce if Congress enacted an energy policy focusing on conservation, more efficient cars and trucks and increased reliance on renewable fuels.

Drilling supporters countered that modern technology and drilling techniques would greatly limit the industrial footprint that would be left on the tundra and protect wildlife. "We know we've got to do it right. ... It's a fragile environment," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

One GOP senator after another argued that ANWR's oil is needed to stem the growing reliance on imports. Stevens called opening the refuge a matter of "national security."

"Some people say we ought to conserve more. They say we ought to conserve instead of producing this oil. But we need to do everything. We have to conserve and produce where we can," said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. He said the United States was facing a "crisis" because of its dependence on foreign oil.

The ANWR fields could produce 1 million barrels a day at peak production in 2025, the Interior Department estimates. The United States uses about 20 million barrels of oil a day.

Drilling opponents rejected the suggestion that ANWR's oil would have much impact on global markets or oil imports, noting the Energy Department has said refuge production would have negligible impact on oil prices and reduce reliance on imports only a few percentage points.

"We won't see this oil for 10 years. It will have minimal impact," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. It is "foolish to say oil development and a wildlife refuge can coexist."

Permalink :: Posted by Clay Butcher on March 16, 2005 :: ::
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