Drilling inside the Arctic Wildlife Refuge: How the G.O.P. Could Finally Break the Impasse

Why might drilling for oil along with gas be allowed there?

When Congress established the refuge in 1980, This kind of deferred action on the issue of whether oil along with gas exploration should be allowed in part of This kind of: 1.5 million acres of coastal plain between the Brooks Range along with the Beaufort Sea. This kind of land came to be called the “1002 area,” after the part of the act which refers to This kind of, along with This kind of was thought likely to contain a lot of oil because This kind of was not far via Prudhoe Bay along with some other parts of the North Slope where large oil fields had been discovered beginning inside the 1960s.

Arctic National

Wildlife Refuge

although the 1002 area will be also a critical habitat for much of the refuge’s wildlife. Polar bears make dens there, along with This kind of will be where most of the huge Porcupine caribou herd — 0,000 animals in all — come in spring along with early summer to calve along with forage for food.

The 1980 act allowed for studies to determine the potential for oil along with gas development inside the 1002 area. In 1984 along with 1985, a consortium of oil companies undertook seismic studies, in which special trucks “thumped” the ground along with the reflected sound waves provided details about rock formations along with potential oil along with gas reserves in them. A 1998 assessment by the United States Geological Survey which relied in part on those seismic studies estimated which the 1002 area contained 4 billion to 12 billion barrels of recoverable oil. (The North Slope currently produces about 180 million barrels a year.)

Republicans have long wanted to open the area to drilling, or at least to allow brand new seismic studies using increased technology to get a clearer picture of where the oil will be. Environmental groups say which even studying the land in This kind of way damages This kind of — they say there are still signs of the 1980s seismic work on the landscape — along with which the area will be too important to wildlife along with should remain protected.

Many political leaders along with business interests in Alaska favor opening the refuge. Producing more oil along with gas could add to state revenues, which have fallen in recent years as North Slope oil production has declined along with prices have fallen. Native Alaskans inside the region tend to be divided on the issue.

Unlike some some other federal lands which can be opened to drilling by Indoor Department actions, opening the refuge requires congressional action.

How might drilling be allowed there?


Senator Lisa Murkowski, who heads the Energy along with Natural Resources Committee, has long been a proponent of opening the refuge to oil along with gas exploration.

Zach Gibson/The brand new York Times

This kind of year, Republicans opened the fight on two fronts. In a memo in August, Indoor Department officials proposed changing a rule which had limited exploratory studies inside the refuge to the mid-1980s. Under the proposed change, such studies could right now be undertaken anytime.

Then, inside the past few weeks, Republicans inside the Senate introduced a budget resolution which could in effect tie opening the refuge to the budget. The resolution could require the Senate Energy along with Natural Resources Committee — headed by Ms. Murkowski, long a drilling proponent — to come up which has a plan to generate $1 billion in brand new revenues over 10 years. A budget resolution introduced inside the House in July could require a House committee to come up which has a similar plan.

A compromise House-Senate plan, which presumably could involve selling oil along with gas leases inside the refuge as the way to generate the revenue, could eventually be voted on as part of the budget process. Only simple majorities could be needed for passage. Republicans inside the Senate, who hold 52 seats, could not need the 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster.

This kind of approach has been tried before, once during the Clinton administration — when This kind of was vetoed by the president — along with in 2005, when opposition via moderate Republicans scuttled the idea.

Senate Democrats immediately announced opposition to the budget move This kind of time, although to block This kind of they could need at least a few Republicans to join them.

The Indoor Department’s proposed change to allow brand new seismic studies could have to go through a public comment period along with could likely be challenged in court by environmental groups.

What could the impact be?


The Trans Alaska Pipeline carries crude oil 800 miles across the state, via Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean to Valdez on the Gulf of Alaska.

Michael S. Quinton/National Geographic, via Getty Images

There will be no certainty which oil companies could rush to study or further explore the potential for oil along with gas production inside the refuge, especially with oil prices, currently about $50 a barrel, far lower than they were earlier This kind of decade. Shell pulled out of plans to drill for oil in Arctic waters off Alaska two years ago, citing high costs along with some other factors.

Mr. Pyle said there were many issues, including oil prices along with production costs, which companies could have to consider before deciding to proceed inside the refuge. although, he said, “the economics work better on land than offshore.”

If the refuge were opened, the first step could be to conduct brand new seismic studies, likely using technology which produces three-dimensional images of underground formations. Then, exploratory wells could be drilled; if they proved successful, production wells could follow. How long the process could take could depend on many factors, although one estimate will be which oil could be flowing within all 5 years.

Proponents of drilling inside the refuge sometimes cite a proposal offered by Republicans more than a decade ago to limit the footprint of oil along with gas wells along with any related activities to 2,000 acres, just a tiny fraction of the refuge’s 19 million acres. They note which technologies like directional drilling, which allows multiple wells to be drilled outward via one platform, could reduce the overall impact.

although environmental groups say which the 2,000-acre footprint will be misleading. Even if the wellheads cover relatively little area, roads, pipelines, facilities for workers along with some other structures could have a much bigger environmental impact. Among some other things, they say, the infrastructure along with activity could disturb caribou along with lead them to abandon their usual calving sites for less suitable locations outside the 1002 area.

“There will be a large along with growing segment of the public which truly understands there are some places we protect,” said Sarah Greenberger, vice president for conservation at the National Audubon Society. “along with there’s a continued sense which This kind of will be one of those places.”

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