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Senator launches battle over drilling in Arctic refuge

WASHINGTON -- Alaska Sen. Frank Murkowski introduced a bill Monday he says will launch "a titanic battle" over whether there will be oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Murkowski
Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska  

"These new programs and incentives will help us to, first, find, develop, deliver and conserve our domestic energy resources. The goal in doing so: We will reduce our reliance on foreign sources of oil to less than 50 percent by 2010 to protect our energy security. And yes - ANWR (Artic National Wildlife Reserve) will be a part of the legislation," Murkowski said at a news conference Monday.

"When we get into the discussion and the debate, we'll recognize that through technology we can have a manageable footprint and protect the environment and the ecology. We've done it before, and we have more experience now," he said.

Oil companies have long been determined to drill in Arctic Refuge, and conservationists have been just as determined to keep them out.

Now, with a former oil man in the White House, and energy issues on the front page of the nation's newspapers, Murkowski's bill would open up the refuge for drilling.

Nobody's sure exactly how much oil is under the refuge. The U.S. Geological Survey figures that at current oil prices, about 6 billion barrels would be worth pumping out. That's roughly enough to supply all U.S. oil needs for about 11 months.

"That's where the oil is. It's the best place to look for oil in the United States, and there's predicted to be more oil there than any other place that we can look for oil in the U.S.," said Mark Rubin of the American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry trade group.

Conservationists call the refuge "America's Serengetti," a reference to giant wildlife preserve in Africa. The section targeted for drilling houses caribou calving grounds and habitat for polar bears, musk oxen and migratory birds.

"Oil development in the arctic wildlife refuge makes as much sense as chopping down the giant redwoods for firewood, " said Jim Walton of the Wilderness Society.

Congress set up the giant Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, about the size of South Carolina, in 1980. It left the door open to oil drilling on about 8 percent of the refuge along the coastal plain, but it would take an act of Congress for the drilling to start.

That's where Murkowski's bill comes in. Called the National Energy Security Act of 2001, its stated goal is to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil to 50 percent by the year 2010. Currently, the United States imports more than 55 percent of its oil.

The bill aims to boost domestic production of oil and natural gas through tax breaks and other incentives. It also encourages electric generation from coal-fired, nuclear and hydroelectric sources. In addition the bill aims to boost renewable energy sources, including wind and solar power and alternative-fueled vehicles.

But the most controversial provision is the part that would pump oil from the refuge. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat, is threatening a filibuster, and several moderate Republicans have said they won't be able to support opening the refuge to drilling.



RELATED STORIES:
Candidates outline competing energy policies
Norton: U.S. would drill responsibly in Alaska
'Titanic battle' brewing over drilling in Alaska

RELATED SITES:
Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

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