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Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (4-13-04)

Energy concerns raised during the past two Congresses have spurred action by both the administration and Congress towards creating a national energy policy. A controversial issue that has received a lot of press involves oil and natural gas exploration on the costal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), located in the northeast corner of Alaska. As with the general public, drilling in ANWR has aroused an array of opinions within the geoscience community. Some geoscientists are supportive of opening ANWR to reverse declining domestic exploration, while others oppose drilling due to the impact it might have on the wilderness. Still others believe drilling ANWR at some time in the future should remain a viable option, but exploration of known reserves on other federal lands should be a priority. Regardless of their views, geoscientists have played an important role in providing policy makers with data on the refuge and its oil potential.

Most Recent Action

On March 31st the State of Alaska announced that it would sell leases for oil and gas exploration for 350,000 acres of offshore areas immediately north of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Additionally, the state will offer up to 670,000 acres of state-managed lands north of the nearby National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) for exploration and development in an October lease sale.

In January Interior Department Secretary Gale Norton approved a plan that would open almost 8.8 million acres in NPR-A. The Interior Department is also considering revising 1998 rules for oil and gas activity in the northeastern area of NPR-A because it believes that the rules are keeping about 2 billion barrels of oil unavailable. The group Earthjustice has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Wilderness Society and six other plaintiffs that says that the Interior Department's plan to open most of the 8.8 million-acre northwest area of NPR-A to exploration violates the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Protection Act.

Although drilling has been approved, new offshore ventures will still not provide oil and gas from Alaska's North Slope immediately. Many miles of pipeline still need to be built to connect the offshore areas to the 800-mile trans-Alaska Pipeline System. According to Greenwire, Alaska state officials believe that it will take at least six years before oil would be brought to market and at least seven to 11 years before natural gas would be brought to market. (4/13/04)

On April 11, 2003, the House passed comprehensive energy legislation (H.R. 6), the Energy Policy act of 2003. Rep. Heather Wilson's (R-NM) amendment was adopted by the house on April 10, 2003, limiting aspects of development to 2,000 acres. The same day, the House rejected Rep. Edward Markey's (D-MA) amendment that would delete ANWR development from the bill entirely. H.R. 770 and S. 543 were recently introduced to Congress and would designate ANWR as protected wilderness.

On March 19, 2003, the Senate passed an amendment that removes reconciliation instructions to open ANWR for drilling from its fiscal year 2004 budget resolution. The amendment -- offered by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) -- passed by a 52-48 margin, with eight Republicans voting against drilling and five Democrats supporting drilling. The House is likely to include an ANWR provision in its budget resolution, as it did last year, meaning the issue will resurface in conference committee. ANWR will also remain an important issue as both chambers work to create comprehensive energy legislation. (3/21/03)

Previous Action

On March 4, 2003, the National Academy of Sciences released the report Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activities on Alaska's North Slope. The report, which was requested by Congress, says that oil activities over the past 35 years have significantly impacted Northern Alaska's environment. The report states that economic benefits to the region were accompanied by environmental consequences, including effects on the terrain, plants, and animals of the North Slope and adjacent marine environment. The report does not offer a recommendation regarding drilling in ANWR: "Whether the benefits derived from oil and gas activities justify acceptance of the inevitable accumulated undesirable effects that have accompanied and will accompany them is an issue for society as a whole to debate and judge." (3/10/03)

On March 5, 2003, Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) reintroduced legislation (S. 543) to designate the 1002 Area of ANWR as a wilderness area, a move that would permanently prevent oil and gas drilling in the refuge. Even though the bill has attracted 23 cosponsors, including one Republican, it is unlikely the legislation will pass given the current make-up of the Senate. A similar bill (H.R. 770) was introduced in the House last month by Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA). (3/14/03)

On March 14th, the Senate Budget Committee passed the fiscal year 2004 budget resolution, sending it to the floor for a final vote. The committee's version included opening ANWR using the reconciliation process (making changes in the federal government's mandatory spending obligations and revenues). The resolution instructed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to pass legislation opening the refuge to exploration and drilling. The revenues from ANWR leasing would then be used to fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. By including ANWR in the reconciliation process, the provision is protected from a filibuster, which would have required a 60-vote majority to break. Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) had previously attempted to remove the ANWR language from the resolution, but the measure was defeated in committee with votes falling along party-lines. (3/18/03)


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, in section 1002 of the Act, Congress left open the possibility of drilling in 1.5 million acres of the northern coastal plain (commonly referred to as the 1002 area) between the Brooks Range and the Beaufort Sea. The 1002 area is used as breeding and migratory habitat for more than 200 species, including muskox, swans, snow geese, and caribou.

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. Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, while opposing exploration in ANWR, did approve drilling in Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve (NPR-A) another large parcel of the Arctic coastal plain located in the state's northwest corner (see AGI's Update on NPR-A for additional information). Babbitt's move was widely viewed as an effort to relieve pressure on ANWR. Additional attempts to add last minute provisions to appropriations bills were made throughout the Clinton Administration, but were all later retracted or vetoed.

While there was talk last Congress of using a budget reconciliation bill to obtain approval for exploration and development in ANWR, most of the action focused on incorporating ANWR into efforts aimed at creating a comprehensive energy legislation. ANWR was often sighted as a way to increase energy security by decreasing the country's reliance on foreign oil. Others argue that conservation strategies such as raising fuel economy standards and moving towards the use of renewable energy sources would accomplish the same goal. In February 2001, Senator Frank Murkowski (R-AK), introduced energy legislation that included a plan for an oil and gas leasing program for the 1002 area of ANWR, measures to prevent environmental degradation and to set aside a portion of lease receipts for funding of renewable energy research and development. In May 2001, President Bush released his National Energy Policy report that also proposed using ANWR lease bonuses to fund research in renewable and alternative fuels. Murkowski's bills were later dropped in June 2001 when Senator James Jeffords (VT) left the Republican Party to become an Independent -- switching the control of the Senate to the Democrats.

In March 2002, following the introduction of comprehensive energy bills in both houses, Murkowski requested that the Energy Information Administration (EIA) analyze a range of related issues including the effects oil from ANWR would have on the nation's dependency on foreign oil. Entitled The Effects of the Alaska Oil and Natural Gas Provisions of H.R. 4 and S. 1766 on U.S. Energy Markets, the report found that ANWR oil production would reduce the percentage share of net imports by 2 percent on average -- dropping imports to 60 percent versus 62 if ANWR is not drilled --and by 5 percent at most. According to the report, "because the coastal plain of ANWR has had little exploration activity, there is considerable uncertainty in the size of the oil resources that might be eventually recovered." Comprehensive energy legislation (H.R. 4) eventually made it to a conference committee to work out differences between House and Senate version. The committee compromised on language in hundreds of pages of bill text, but failed to find a consensus on opening the ANWR for oil and gas exploration. After the November elections, further work on energy legislation was postponed till the 108th Congress.

Additional information on proposed energy policy legislation is available at the AGI's Energy Policy Overview. Several Congressional Research Service reports available at the National Library for the Environment provide a historical overview of the ANWR debate and how it is related to current energy legislation. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released a report in 1998 that estimated the potential oil reserves in ANWR as a part of the National Oil and Gas Assessment. This was followed in 2000 by an Energy Information Administration (EIA) report containing projections of future daily production rates from ANWR based on the 1998 USGS assessment. In 2002, at the request of the Interior Department's leadership, the USGS issued the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain Terrestrial Wildlife Research Summaries and an additional supplemental report on possible ANWR drilling impacts to Porcupine caribou, musk oxen, snow geese and polar bears. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists has developed a position statement supporting exploration in ANWR.

Additional information on events from previous Congresses is available at AGI's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Update 107th Congress.

Sources: Department of Energy, Department of the Interior, E&E Daily, Greenwire, hearing documents, Library of Congress, The New York Times, U.S. Geological Survey, White House, and Washington Post.

Contributed by Margaret A. Baker and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs Program; Charna Meth, 2003 Spring Semester Intern, and Gayle Levy, 2004 Spring Semester Intern.
Background section includes material from AGI's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Update for the 107th Congress.

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

Last updated on April 13, 2004