GOP Unveils Plan To Open ANWR To Drilling

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Senate Republicans unveiled legislation Wednesday night to open up part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas drilling.

“This legislation is a tremendous opportunity for both Alaska and our country,” said Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Murkowski’s committee crafted legislation to open ANWR’s “1002 area” to oil and natural gas drilling as part of the budget reconciliation process. Murkowski says opening ANWR’s coastal plain to drilling would raise $1.1 billion over 10 years.

Alaska politicians support the legislation, but even with GOP control of the Senate, it’s likely going to be an uphill battle. Democrats came out against the legislation before it was even released, questioning the need for more oil drilling.

As it stands now, the GOP is closest it’s been to opening up ANWR to drilling in about a decade.

“The legislation I released tonight will put us on a path toward greater prosperity by creating jobs, keeping energy affordable for families and businesses, generating new wealth, and strengthening our security,” Murkowski said in a statement.

The bill would open ANWR’s 1.5 million acre coastal plain to drilling. Congress set aside the coastal plain specifically for oil and gas exploration, though D.C. has kept the region locked up.

Murkowski said drilling would generate “tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars over the decades to come.” Half the revenue generated from drilling royalties and taxes would go to the state of Alaska.

Alaska is highly dependent on drilling for state revenues. That money goes towards education programs, hospitals and infrastructure projects. ANWR is estimated to hold 8 billion barrels of oil.

While opening ANWR is contentious in D.C., Alaskans largely support drilling in the “1002 area,” including natives living in the coastal plain.

Kaktovik village tribal administrator Matthew Rexford told Congress in a recent hearing that policies keeping ANWR oil and gas locked up turned his tribe into “conservation refugees.”

“We do not approve of efforts to turn our homeland into one giant national park, which literally guarantees us a fate with no economy, no jobs, reduced subsistence and no hope for the future of our people,” said Rexford, whose tribe lives in the “1002 area.”

The “1002 area” is about 8 percent of ANWR’s total area, which is more than 19.2 million acres. Murkowski’s bill would require the Interior Department to hold at least two ANWR lease sales in the next 10 years.

The bill also allows Interior officials to grant rights of way across the coastal plain, but those rights of way can’t total more than 2,000 acres.

Democrats tried to keep language allowing ANWR drilling out of the recently-passed Senate budget resolution, but that amendment was voted down 52-48 in late October.

“The notion that we, tonight, after 60-plus years, would give up what is a biologically important area, a critical habitat for polar bears, a breeding ground for caribou, migratory birds and over 200 species — for what? For oil we don’t need?” Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell said before her amendment failed.

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