It looks like Republicans are pushing to achieve another longtime goal. The Senate could finally approve oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR.)
Last week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 13-10 to approve an additional measure to the tax-reform bill that would allow for oil and gas exploration at the 19.6 million-acre refuge.
The Senate will be voting to pass the tax bill by the end of the year and it’s expected to pass since the GOP has the majority in the chamber.
In 1960, President Eisenhower declared the refuge as a protected area and then in 1980 oil and gas drilling was banned in the refuge.
However, there is an estimated 4.3 billion to 11.8 billion barrels of recoverable oil in ANWR, according to the U.S. Geological Survey from 2002.
But, this is merely an estimate. The accurate amount is unknown, as written in a Department of Energy report from 2008.
“There is considerable uncertainty regarding both the size and quality of the oil resources that exist in ANWR,” said the report. “Thus, the potential ultimate oil recovery and potential yearly production are highly uncertain.”
But Republicans have been pushing to do studies to accurately determine how much oil is available.
Proponents believe this could help make the U.S. much less dependent on countries like Venezuela, Russia, and those in the Middle East that export a significant amount of our oil supply.
The House Committee on Natural Resources estimated that 130,000 jobs could be created and $440 billion could be generated from an ANWR drilling project, depending on the oil reserves.
Another study from the Center for American Progress said that the drilling could bring in over $37.5 million for the treasury.
The Senate Energy committee is being led by Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who introduce the oil and gas exploration bill. She has said that at least 2 billion would be generated from a drilling project, half of which would go to the state of Alaska and half to the federal government.
Proponents also point out that with today’s advanced technology, the energy production would have much less of an impact on the environment than in the past.
“Alaskans will do this the right way,” said Murkowski ahead of the committee vote. “We will protect the environment while providing substantial economic benefits all across America.”
However, passing the bill means Murkowski has to support a healthcare agenda she has not supported in the past.
“Murkowski, along with fellow GOPers Susan Collins of Maine and John McCain of Arizona, voted down the Senate GOP’s efforts to repeal much of the ACA. In doing so, she repeatedly cited the potential impact on health coverage in her state, which has expanded under the law,” writes E&E News.
“Murkowski now may face a choice of whether to secure the legislative victory on ANWR that has eluded the Alaska delegation — including her father, former Energy Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) — for nearly 40 years, or maintain health coverage for thousands of Alaskans.”
Critics, including Democrats and environmentalists, argue that the damage to wildlife and ecosystem could still be significant enough to be detrimental and could cause permanent damage to the environment.
Democrats have also blasted the measure doubting its significance.
“The Energy and Natural Resources Committee has been instructed to raise a billion dollars, and at the same time the Finance Committee is trying to increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion with tax cuts for corporations and millionaires,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., at this week’s committee hearing. “The fact our committee’s contribution to that deal is about 7/100th of one percent of the Republicans’ increased deficit spending shows that this is not a serious budget proposal. It’s a cynical effort to open up the heart of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge for oil.”
The bill only needs 51 votes to pass, meaning Democrats won’t be able to produce a filibuster. The House tax bill that was passed 227-205 last Thursday does not include the ANWR drilling measure, but House lawmakers plan to fight for its inclusion.
Author’s note: It looks like this Senate bill with this measure is going to past. We should at least try to find out what Alaska’s oil reserves are. This could potentially be a goldmine we are just sitting on.