Republicans wanted to drill in an-oil rich area of an Alaskan refuge for decades, and the political stars are perfectly aligned for that to happen. Video provided by Newsy Newslook
WASHINGTON – For decades, proponents of oil and gas drilling have viewed Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as an area rich with natural resources that could help fuel the United States’ drive for energy independence.
Now, Congress may be on the verge of finally handing them permission to deliver on an old Republican mantra: Drill, baby, drill.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 13-10 last week to approve a bill that would allow oil and gas exploration in the refuge’s 1.5-million-acre coastal plain. The measure will be added to the Senate’s tax-reform package that is expected to be put to a vote before the end of the year.
Given that drilling in the refuge has been a Republican priority — and that the GOP now controls the Senate, the House and the presidency — drilling advocates appear to be the closest they’ve been in decades to achieving their goal.
Here are five things you should know about the wildlife refuge and why it has become such a flash point in the nation’s energy debate:
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been the subject of political debates for the past 40 years. Here are the facts about ANWR. Time
What is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?
The Arctic refuge, or ANWR as it is often called, is a 19.6-million-acre section of northeastern Alaska that is considered one of the most pristine areas in the United States.
Often referred to as America’s last great wilderness, it is home to polar bears, caribou, Alaskan moose, wolverines, migratory birds and other animals. It’s also the homeland of the Gwich’in, a group of indigenous people who have subsisted on the land for thousands of years.
President Eisenhower declared the refuge a federally protected area in 1960. Oil and gas drilling in the refuge was banned in 1980, and since then, several presidents and Congresses have resisted efforts to permit exploration in the area.
President Clinton vetoed a budget bill in 1995 because it would have allowed drilling in the refuge. Ten years later, Senate Democrats killed a similar GOP plan.
Why is drilling in ANWR an issue now?
Republicans, who have been pushing for years to allow oil and gas exploration in ANWR, resurrected the idea in September as a way to help pay for tax cuts promised by President Trump.
The GOP tasked the Senate Energy committee, led by Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, with coming up with $1 billion in revenue over 10 years. Critics argued the plan was not only a GOP maneuver to pay for tax cuts, but also a backhanded way to end the 37-year ban on drilling in ANWR.
On Nov. 15, the committee approved a measure sponsored by Murkowski, a longtime advocate of ANWR drilling, that would open up the area’s coastal plain to oil and gas exploration.
Specifically, the legislation calls for at least two lease sales over the next decade in the refuge’s coastal plain and mandates that each sale must contain at least 400,000 acres. Surface development on the federal land would be limited to 2,000 acres.
Murkowski contends royalties from the leases would generate about $2 billion over the next decade. Half would go to her state, and other half would go to the federal government, which could use them to help pay for Trump’s promised tax cuts to corporations and individuals.
How much oil is in ANWR?
No one knows for sure.
To be certain, some exploratory work must be done. But since drilling is banned in ANWR, only one exploratory well has ever been allowed there. That was back in the mid-1980s in a joint project by the petroleum industry giants BP and Chevron. Their findings have never been made public.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimated in 2002 there are between 4.3 billion and 11.8 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the coastal plain. The agency based its estimates in part on seismic data collected during the BP-Chevron project, but the technology used to gather that data is now considered out of date.
A Department of Energy report in 2008 cast doubts on the size of ANWR’s underlying resource base. “There is considerable uncertainty regarding both the size and quality of the oil resources that exist in ANWR,” the report said. “Thus, the potential ultimate oil recovery and potential yearly production are highly uncertain.”
The Trump administration is pushing for new seismic studies to determine how much oil is available.
What are the arguments for and against drilling?
Proponents argue that drilling in ANWR would allow the U.S. to tap into domestic resources and import less oil from hostile countries, such as Russia, Venezuela and those in the Middle East.
Developing ANWR’s resources could create as many as 130,000 jobs and generate as much as $440 billion in new government revenue over the life of the drilling, according to the House Committee on Natural Resources.
Supporters also argue that advancements in technology allow for energy production to occur safely and with minimal environmental impact.
Opponents counter that drilling in the Arctic refuge would not yield the projected revenue.
According to an analysis by the Center for American Progress, ANWR drilling would bring in no more than $37.5 million for the Treasury over 10 years — nowhere near enough to pay for Trump’s tax cuts. The left-leaning nonprofit says ANWR revenue projections are based on outdated resource estimates, ignore production costs and fail to take into account market conditions, including the current low crude prices.
What’s more, opponents argue, drilling is a risky endeavor that would cause widespread and permanent damage to the coastal plain, destroy the area’s natural beauty and jeopardize its wildlife and ecosystems.
What happens next?
Murkowski’s bill to permit oil and gas exploration in the coastal plain now goes to the Senate Budget Committee, where it will be added to the Senate tax overhaul plan. A vote on the tax bill is expected before the end of the year.
Because Republicans will consider tax reform under a procedure known as “reconciliation,” the bill requires only 51 votes to pass and cannot be subject to a filibuster by Democrats.
The House tax bill, approved on a 227-205 vote last Thursday, doesn’t include the ANWR drilling language. But House supporters plan to fight for that provision if the two bills go to a conference committee to work out a compromise.