Murkowski introduces bill to develop ANWR with directional drilling

US Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.) introduced her previously announced bill to authorize leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge using directional drilling from state lands on Feb. 27.

US Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.) introduced her previously announced bill to authorize leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge using directional drilling from state lands on Feb. 27.

The measure, which was co-sponsored by Alaska's other US senator, Democrat Mark Begich, would allow access to the ANWR coastal plain's oil and gas resources from state-owned land to the west and state waters to the north, Murkowski said. She originally outlined her proposal on Feb. 19.

The bill aims to reach a compromise with groups concerned with preserving the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain while improving the US economy and its energy security with more domestic oil and gas production, Murkowski said. "I urge those previously opposed to exploration in ANWR to take a fresh look at this issue and show a willingness to compromise," she said.

Environmental organizations immediately attacked the bill, however. "This bill is nothing more than an attempt to distract us from the real issue: the out-of-control leasing and development that's been going on for the past eight years in America's Arctic," said Kristen Miller, government affairs director at the Alaska Wilderness League.

"We are disappointed because we would rather work with Sens. Murkowski and Begich on a comprehensive Arctic climate and energy plan," said Eleanor Huffines, Alaska director for the Wilderness Society.

Begich said that directional drilling would provide a great opportunity to tap ANWR's oil and gas potential with minimal disruption to the wild lands and the wildlife which depend on them. "I have been a long-time supporter of this cutting-edge technology and hope this measure will help lead to an informed decision about how to address America's energy needs and how Alaska can help meet them," he said.

Part of a bigger policy

"Developing the enormous energy resources on Alaska's North Slope should be part of a comprehensive national energy policy which also includes renewable energy and conservation," Begich added.

Murkowski said that her bill was based on a compromise reached in the 2007 Wyoming Range Legacy Act, which allows resources in a new federal wilderness area to be developed through directional drilling as long as there are no permanent surface impacts. The measure would divide revenue from developing ANWR oil and gas evenly between the state and federal government, with another $15 million of mitigation impact aid for North Slope residents.

Developing oil and gas resources beneath ANWR's coastal plain could create up to 70,000 high-paying jobs and generate as much as $112 billion of revenue in royalties, lease payments and corporate taxes for the federal and Alaska treasuries, according to Murkowski.

Oil and gas development also requires roads, air strips, gravel mines, pipelines and seismic surveys, the two environmental groups said in their joint response. Despite oil and gas industry claims, companies in Alaska have never drilled a horizontal distance for a production well over three miles and rarely more than one mile, they added.

"The region is already under immense stress from the impacts of climate change and there are now close to 100 million acres open for oil and gas development. For eight years, the Bush administration paid no heed to huge gaps in science and potential impacts to this fragile, unique ecosystem. Yet instead of addressing these important issues, Sens. Murkowski and Begich introduce a dead-on-arrival piece of legislation that aims to keep Congress stuck in the same stale debate," Miller said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

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