Drilling threat looms large for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

November 20, 2017, 6:43 a.m.
A person looks over the Upper Sheenjek Valley of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from a ledge.
Photo: Steven Chase/USFWS/Getty Images

The prospect of drilling for oil and gas in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) moved ahead this week with a 13-10 vote of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The legislation would compel the Department of the Interior to hold a lease sale of up to 800,00 acres of the ANWR within the next decade. Per Congressional Budget Office projections reported by The Hill, the sale of land could generate almost $1.1 billion for the federal government. This revenue is seen as vital to paying for the the tax cuts proposed in the Republicans' overhaul of the tax system. The next steps in the process will be connected to House and Senate votes on the overall tax bill.

Plans to drill in the ANWR have been priority for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who leads the Senate committee. She contends that the drilling will be boon to Alaska and the U.S., and that it will be done in a way that respects the environment.

"If we move forward with development, we will do it right. We will take care of our wildlife, our lands and our people," she said during a hearing of the committee.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) led the opposition to the legislation's approval, arguing that "it turns this coastal plane and wildlife refuge into an oil field."

Amendments proposed by Democrats that would tie the drilling to environmental contingencies, including land conservation and caribou habitat protection, were voted down by the committee.

As Bloomberg points out, interest in drilling in ANWR may be not be particularly high given the costs involved in setting up operations in such a remote area. Still, provided decades-old projections are true, the lure of between 4.3 billion and 11.8 billion barrels of oil may be too much for energy companies (and the government) to ignore.

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