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ANCHORAGE - Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could provide a viable alternative to boosting supplies for the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens said Monday.
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A protection against emergency oil market disruptions, the reserve can now hold about 727 million barrels, and Congress has authorized it to go to 1 billion. President Bush wants the capacity increased further, to 1.5 billion barrels, and filled by 2027.
"I think it is in the national interest to be able to produce from ANWR and certainly by the time we could get it ready to produce, it would be a ready reserve," the Alaska Republican said during a news conference.
Stevens said he would work with U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on the proposal which, in the very least, would face an uphill battle.
Opponents want the new Democratic-controlled Congress to make an oft-challenged drilling ban permanent. Legislation introduced in the House last month would make the oil-rich 1.2 million-acre coastal strip of the ANWR a permanently protected wilderness and end repeated efforts to open the area east of the Prudhoe oil field to energy companies.
But Stevens said he's seen figures it could cost up to $65 billion to buy oil to fill the petroleum reserve, and opening up ANWR "might be a solution."
"Why take billions of billions of dollars to buy oil - which automatically will raise the price of oil, by the way - when we can have a reserve in the ground? All we have to do is try to make it a functioning petroleum reserve," he said.
The coastal strip of ANWR is believed to contain 10.5 billion barrels of oil, approaching the size of the Prudhoe Bay field to the west. At peak production the refuge could supply 1 million barrels a day by 2025, according to the Interior Department.
"It's federal land. I think it makes eminent sense to get it ready, and I personally believe the oil will be needed before it can be produced," Stevens said.
Opening up ANWR also would be important as Russia becomes a major exporter of oil.
"They will soon become one of the world's great suppliers of petroleum products, and they're not going to be selling $10 oil. They're going to be selling $60 oil," Stevens said. "All the more reason we should open ANWR."
He said they would see how state officials feel about the idea.
Stevens may get that chance next week, when Gov. Sarah Palin is scheduled to visit Stevens in Washington, D.C.
But foremost among topics then will be the proposed natural gas pipeline. Federal regulators have expressed concern that the state has not made significant process in developing a plan to move 35 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas to market.
They are not alone.
"I'm not happy with the pace, period," said Stevens.
But he doesn't intend to scold Palin. Instead, "I plan to listen to her. Senators don't tell governors what to do, and vice versa," he said.
On March 2, Palin plans to introduce into the Alaska Legislature her natural gas pipeline bill, which would set project criteria that energy companies must meet in exchange for inducement incentives from the state to build a pipeline.