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Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Update (7-7-00)

Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) has long been a divisive issue for geoscientists and the public alike with arguments advanced on both sides concerning oil exploration on the refuge's coastal plain (for an overview of this debate, see the Congressional Research Services' The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge:  The Next Chapter).  Petroleum geologists, concerned with decreasing exploration in the United States, are eager to see ANWR opened for exploration. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists has developed a position statement on this issue.  Other geoscientists, concerned with the impact that drilling might have on the wilderness, have opposed exploration.  Regardless of what their views might be, geoscientists have certainly played an important role in providing policymakers with data on the refuge and its oil potential. Over the years, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has prepared several estimates of the potential oil reserves in ANWR, the most recent of which was completed in 1998.  An AGI update on the USGS assessment is available on this site as is a Geotimes Political Scene column, "Anticipating the Issue Cycle: Oil estimates and ANWR" that addresses some of the controversy surrounding the assessment's release.  In May 2000, the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA) released a new report containing projections of future daily production rates from ANWR based on the 1998 USGS resource assessment.  The report was developed at the request of Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK).

Most Recent Action
In its July 5th edition, the Houston Chronicle reported that Texas Governor George W. Bush favors the opening of ANWR to oil exploration as part of a plan to wean the nation off foreign oil.  "I think we can [open ANWR] in a way that doesn't damage the environment," the GOP presidential candidate said.  Bush's response comes in the wake of Vice President Gore's announcement of a multi-billion dollar plan to increase the use of "green" technologies, as both candidates try to respond to public complaints about high gas prices (for more on Gore's plan, see the AGI monthly update for June 2000).

In his July 1st radio address, President Clinton reiterated his support for Gore's proposal, labeling ANWR drilling "a short-sighted approach to a long-term problem." (7/5/00)

Congress - With Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) under pressure to complete a substantial portion of the appropriations process prior to the July 4th recess, the Senate Republican leadership abandoned its attempt to include a measure that would have opened ANWR to oil drilling as an amendment in this year's Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations bill (S. 2553).  Although Sen. Murkowski dropped his plan to attach the provisions in S. 2557 -- The National Energy Security Act of 2000 -- to the appropriations bill, the energy policy legislation may still come to the floor as a separate item.  His measure promises to make the U.S. less dependent on foreign oil, reducing foreign oil to 50% of the nation's total energy supply within ten years by opening ANWR to oil drilling.  The initiative is sponsored by 10 Republican senators, including Majority Leader Trent Lott, Frank Murkowski, Larry Craig (R-ID), and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX).  For additional information on this legislation, visit the AGI Update on the Congressional Response to Rising Oil Prices. (6/30/00)

Not only has ANWR entered into the appropriations process as of late, it has also surfaced in a recent Senate effort to limit the president's ability to classify national monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906.  With President Clinton eager to create new monuments before his term expires, many senators are concerned that he will soon declare a portion of ANWR a national monument, permanently closing the area to oil drilling. Oil Daily substantiated these fears when it reported June 15th that the White House "has prepared the paperwork for designating the coastal plain of ANWR as a national monument, and it is just a matter of timing," immediately incensing both Alaskan senators.  Upon receiving the news, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Murkowski waved the report in front of Energy Undersecretary Ernest J. Moniz at a committee hearing while Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) retorted, "If they do this, it would be the last straw.  I'd hope this would be struck down by the courts."  Interior Secretary Babbitt subsequently promised not to support an ANWR monument, but that action apparently did little to assuage the senators' concerns.

Hoping to curb the president's power to designate national monuments, Sen. Craig proposed legislation last year that would require Congress' approval of monument designations, instructing land management agencies to "gather information on the surface and subsurface resources present at the proposed site, identify land ownership in the area, and conduct hearings on the potential designation and prepare environmental studies in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)."  On June 7th, Craig's measure (S. 729) passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and on to the Senate floor.  Although an earlier measure (H.R. 1487) passed the same committee by a 12-8 vote October 20, 1999, on the heels of a resounding 408-2 House victory the previous month, Sens. Larry Craig (R-ID), Pete Domenici (R-NM), Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Craig Thomas (R-WY), Gordon Smith (R-OR), and Conrad Burns (R-MT) filed a dissension in the bill's report (S. Rpt. 106-250).  In their objection, the senators asserted that the House provisions requiring the president to ask for public comment on monument declarations, consult with the governor and congressional representatives of the state in which the monument is to be located at least 60 days in advance of the declaration, and ensure that national monument management plans conform to NEPA protocol, failed to adequately amend the Antiquities Act. (6/15/00)

Current Congress
In March 1999, Rep. Bruce Vento (D-MN) introduced H.R. 1239, the Morris K. Udall Wilderness Act, with 116 bipartisan cosponsors.  Unlike Murkowski's bill, Vento's legislation would prohibit drilling in ANWR.

In his opening remarks, Rep. Vento exclaimed, "thanks to the late Chairman Mo Udall's perseverance and dedication to the environment, the Arctic Refuge has been spared from the oil companies and the scarring effects of oil and gas exploration. We must remain united and continue his legacy to fight for the permanent preservation of the Arctic Refuge's coastal plain. Preventing the exploitation of the coastal plain is one of many solutions that can be employed today to protect Alaska's natural beauty and to prevent another tragedy similar to the one that occurred in Prince William Sound ten years ago. The exploitation of the coastal plain's virgin land threatens the existence of a 1,000 generation old culture, the Gwich'in of Northeast Alaska, who rely on the 150,000 strong Porcupine Caribou herd -- one of the world's largest and North America's last free roaming herd. The displacement of this herd as a result of oil exploration and development could throw nature's delicate balance into a tailspin. Bringing this balance to equilibrium is further complicated because of the extremely long recovery period of the Arctic. In addition to the Porcupine Caribou, the Arctic Refuge is home to more than 200 species of wildlife ranging from musk oxen to polar bears. If we destroy a species, it could send a shockwave through the entire ecosystem and impact every species in its footprint -- a devastating biological echo."

House Resources Committee Chairman Don Young (R-AK) criticized Vento's bill, stating that the "ill-conceived legislation" would increase U.S. dependence on Middle East oil.  In a press release, Young retorted, "My advice to [Vento] would be to reconsider his avid support for the degradation of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife and start taking care of the species he claims to care so much about that live -- at least for now -- in his state."  H.R. 1239 has been referred to the House Resource Committee.

On June 16, 1999, Young introduced a bill establishing a competitive oil and gas leasing program on ANWR's 1.5 million-acre coastal plain, an area known as the 1002 area.  H.R. 2250, also supported by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Frank Murkowski, closely resembles legislation offered in the 104th Congress.  President Clinton vetoed that earlier legislation in 1995.  The Administration is certain to oppose this bill as well, and it is unlikely that Young and Murkowski will be able to muster the votes needed to override a presidential veto.  In introducing the bill, Young dismissed environmental concerns that drilling in the refuge would harm wildlife, asserting that "Alaskans are true conservationists and are committed to developing the coastal plain in the most environmentally responsible manner."  This bill has been referred to both the House Resources Committee and the Department of the Interior for comment.

Murkowski introduced S. 2214 on March 8, 2000, with fellow Alaskan, Sen. Ted Stevens (R).  This bill would open part of ANWR's Arctic coastal plain to oil and gas exploration and development.  Its introduction follows several congressional hearings regarding the recent fluctuations in the price of crude oil, at which Murkowski and other members of Congress cited increased production of domestic petroleum as a solution to the effects the currently unstable world petroleum market is having on U.S. consumers.  In a press release from Murkowski's office, the senator stated:  "We are going to continue on this rollercoaster of price shocks and economic disruption until we learn from our mistakes and take action to produce more energy here at home."  Like similar bills introduced during the Clinton Administration, Murkowski may have a hard time raising enough votes to override a presidential veto.  A press release from Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbit noted that he would recommend the president not support any bill opening ANWR to petroleum exploration:  "We will protect this last undeveloped fragment of America's Arctic coastline for the thousands of caribou, polar bears, swans, snow geese, musk oxen and countless other species who use it to birth and shelter their young."

Two weeks after Murkowski introduced his legislation (S. 2214), Greenwire reported that Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Bob Smith (R-NH) had announced his opposition to the plan.  Smith specifically questioned whether opening ANWR would reduce U.S. dependence on foreign sources of oil, calling instead for the refuge's permanent protection.

Both groups for and against ANWR drilling were present at an April 5th Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Murkowski's bill.  Lucy Beach, a member of the Gwich'in Nation (an indigenous people to the ANWR region), testified that her culture "arose from [its] coexistence with the caribou and [its] strength . . . lies in [its] continuing reliance on caribou."  Oil drilling would most certainly disrupt caribou migration, threatening the Gwich'in's very existence.  Other indigenous groups, however, supported drilling on the ANWR coastal plain.  Brenda Itta-Lee, Member of the Board of Directors of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC), a firm representing thousands of Inupiat Eskimos, testified that that any drilling would give a much needed economic boost to many Inupiat communities.  She noted how Prudhoe Bay's development in the late 1970s had provided jobs, economic activity, and a tax base.  With Prudhoe's production in decline, ANWR drilling will "determine whether there will be jobs and economic activity for our people and our children," she said.  Roger Herrera, a geologist and President of Northern Knowledge, Anchorage, Alaska, also supported drilling, asserting that it makes "no sense" to ignore a domestic energy source when global reserves are projected to decline in the coming decades.  David Hayes, Deputy Secretary for the Department of the Interior, maintained the Administration's position that drilling on ANWR's coastal plain will do unnecessary, irrevocable harm to the region's "unique, pristine ecosystem."  Most of the testimony from the hearing is available on the Senate committee's website.

Although Senate Republicans were able to retain language in their FY 2001 budget resolution that would assume $1.2 billion in revenues from ANWR drilling during the next two years, the language was shot down by House Republicans and Democrats in an April 13th conference.  Murkowski's effort to spur the opening of ANWR was labeled "highly speculative and widely disputed" in a congressional letter signed by several members of the House (Environment and Energy Daily, 4/14/00).

Congress created the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in 1980 through the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.  ANWR extends over 19 million acres in the state's northeast corner, making it the second-largest refuge in the United States. Although drilling has never been allowed in the refuge, Congress left open the possibility of drilling in 1.5 million acres of the northern Alaskan coastal plain in section 1002 of the Act (hence known as the 1002 area). This plain encompasses territory between the Brooks Range and the Beaufort Sea.

The Alaska delegation has been seeking to open ANWR for exploration ever since it was created. Legislation to do so passed Congress in 1995 as part of an omnibus budget reconciliation bill (making changes in the federal government's mandatory spending obligations and revenues), but the bill was vetoed by President Clinton in part due to his opposition to the ANWR provision.  Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt calls ANWR "America's Serengeti" because of its incredible biodiversity; he has been implacably opposed to exploration in the refuge. In the last Congress, no legislation was introduced to open ANWR for drilling, but Sen. Murkowski considered introducing a bill to authorize new seismic work that would take advantage of advances in 3-D technology to better constrain the amount of oil reserves likely to be found there. Such a bill, however, was never introduced.

While opposing exploration in ANWR, Babbitt did approve drilling in Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve (NPRA), another large parcel of the Arctic coastal plain located in the state's northwest corner, opposite ANWR. Babbitt's move was widely viewed as an effort to relieve pressure on ANWR. For more on NPRA, see the AGI update at

Sources:  AAPG Explorer, Congressional Research Service Reports, Environment and Energy Briefing Book, Energy and Environment Daily, Greenwire, Houston Chronicle, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee website, United States Geological Survey, Washington Post

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Contributed by: Kasey Shewey White and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs Program; 2000 AGI/AIPG Geoscience and Public Policy Intern Michael Wagg; 1998 AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Intern Shannon Clark; and 1999-2000 AGI/AAPG Geoscience Policy Intern Alison Alcott

Posted March 29, 1999; Last Updated July 7, 2000

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