U.S. Senators Murkowski, Stevens seek ANWR drilling

Posted: Friday, March 14, 2008

With oil prices hitting $110 a barrel, gasoline prices reaching record highs and energy costs becoming prohibitive, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Thursday it's time to reconsider oil exploration on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

She, along with support from fellow Alaska Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, introduced legislation to open up ANWR should oil prices reach $125 for five straight days.

"You get to a point where maybe there is a tipping point when it comes to driving action on an issue like ANWR," Murkowski told The Associated Press. "People are talking about what's going on with the high price of gasoline and the high price of energy that we are feeling acutely at home."

The 1.2 million-acre coastal strip has long been protected from efforts to open the area east of Prudhoe Bay oil field to energy companies.

If opened, Murkowski said revenues would be used by the federal government for alternative energy development, plus energy relief programs for low-income families.

"You can talk about conservation; you can talk about renewables; but you can't get there from here unless you've got some kind of transition," Murkowski said. "More domestic production will help facilitate that, so we are trying a different tact this time."

Should the bill gain traction, Murkowski can expect a fight.

Environmentalists have done well to protect that coastal region and aren't about to give up now, said Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League in Washington D.C.

"I can't believe that they would do this again; that dog won't mush," Shogan said. "There are millions of acres of land and water available to oil and gas leasing. They don't need ANWR for that."

Shogan said federal lawmakers should be more considerate of the potential climate change effects that come with such industrial projects.

"This will only increase the effects of climate change," she said. "I'm surprised they wouldn't be worried about the effects of climate change on their state."

In a recent Energy Department report that examined North Slope resource potential, the ANWR area, including state-owned Beaufort Sea waters and Alaska Native lands, contains an estimated 10.4 billion barrels of oil.

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