Congressional report: New technology key to ANWR drilling debate

A nonpartisan report prepared for the US Congress says new oil drilling technology may be an important factor in addressing the debate over exploration of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain region. The Congressional Research Service report took no sides on the ANWR issue.


Maureen Lorenzetti
OGJ Online

WASHINGTON, DC, June 20 -- A nonpartisan report prepared for the US Congress says new oil drilling technology may be an important factor in addressing the debate over exploration of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain region.

The Congressional Research Service Tuesday supplied lawmakers with a broad analysis of the latest snapshot of what new technological advances industry can do to lessen the "footprint" in the area, now off limits to drilling.

The CRS report took no sides on the ANWR issue. It did say, "Proponents of opening ANWR note that these technologies mitigate the environmental impact of petroleum operations, but do not eliminate it. Critics of petroleum operations in ANWR maintain that a facility of any size would still be an industrial site and would change the character of the refuge."

Terry Twyman, visiting scholar in Economic Growth and Entrepreneurship of the CRS's Resources, Science, and Industry Division authored the overview. Based on interviews with government and industry officials and other stakeholders, Twyman said the oil industry's drilling methods are vastly different since the development of Prudhoe Bay in the 1970s.

"Recent advances in drilling are lessening the footprint of petroleum operations in arctic environments," he said. "New drilling bits and fluids and advanced forms of drilling such as extended reach, horizontal, and designer wells, permit drilling to reach as far as 5 miles from one wellhead location and to drill around geological barriers to find and develop hydrocarbon accumulations."

The report comes at a time when proponents of ANWR drilling have vowed to step up their fight to open the coastal area to drilling. A draft House Committee on Resources bill seeks to open up the area, and in the Senate, Frank Murkowski (R-Alas.) says he will seek a floor vote for ANWR with or without the support of the Democratic-controlled Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Senate leaders oppose ANWR development, as do a majority of lawmakers in the House.

Some GOP leaders say, however, that an ANWR provision should be voted on by the House and Senate instead of being killed in committee. Senate Republicans say that the refusal of Senate Democrats to consider one omnibus energy package is also a major mistake.

"If the Republicans were controlling the Senate, we would be considering energy right now," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) Wednesday.

Her remarks came hours after Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) said that while energy issues would be "high on the list" of proposed legislation, the Senate must recognize that stalled spending bills are a top priority.

Contact Maureen Lorenzetti at maureenl@ogjonline.com

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