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The ANWR Drilling Debate
Here's an up-to-the-minute look at the drilling debate and what's in the forecast for Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.   By Daniel Engber

Posted December 21, 2005
Photo Gallery:
Visit the refuge with Adventure
photographer James Balog >>
Special Report:
First Deaths Caused by Grizzlies in ANWR:

Could global warming have played a role in the deaths of Kathy and Rich Huffman? >>
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Supporters of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) drilling provision in the military spending bill lost a key vote in the Senate today, falling four votes short of the 60 needed to block a threatened Democratic filibuster of the measure. The military spending bill is expected to be reworked and resubmitted without the drilling clauses. (Read more >>)

Nicole Whittington-Evans, Assistant Regional Director for the
Wilderness Society in Alaska, called the vote "a tremendous victory for those working to protect the Arctic refuge" and "a turning point" in the drilling debate, which has simmered for the past five years.  

For the adventure travel industry, the decision may actually have a negative impact in the short term. "We've seen an increase in business because of the oil threat," observed Ron Clauson, the owner and operator of
Backcountry Safaris, which leads kayaking and rafting trips within the refuge. "People want to see it before the drilling starts. Now we could see business fall off a bit."  In the long term, he's not certain that the decision was apt to impact travel outfitters one way or another.  "Most outfitters operate in the Brooks Range, not in the costal wetlands area where drilling would take place," Clauson said.



Posted December 19, 2005

The House voted very early today to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling by adding the measure to a military spending bill that also includes a recovery package for Katrina-damaged areas. (
Read more >>) The Senate vote is expected on Wednesday.



Posted December 15, 2005

It's been almost a year since President George W. Bush offered up a budget proposal that included a provision for drilling Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), and the House and the Senate have each voted on the measure three times. There's been an awful lot of activity in the past few months.

In Alaska the dispute over drilling has pitted two native groups against one another. Environmentalists bent on protecting the refuge at all costs have found allies among the Gwich'in people, who live in the southern part of ANWR and oppose the drilling. (Read more >> ) Industrialists bent on opening the refuge to 2.4 billion dollars in oil and gas leases have the support of many Inupiat people, who live close to the proposed site in the north and feel they have much to gain from the potential drilling. (Read more >> ) But neither of these groups has much control over the political maneuverings in Washington.

The long wait for a resolution might be over before the new year. Right now the Senate and the House have each passed their own versions of the budget bill. The Senate has upheld oil and gas drilling on ANWR's coastal plain. (
Read more >>) Meanwhile, the House has rejected it. (Read more >>


Nothing will happen to the refuge unless both chambers can agree on the budget. Presently senators and representatives are meeting in a conference committee to work on a compromise. (
Read more >>) If they finish before the holiday break, Congress can take another (perhaps decisive) vote on the budget before the end of the year.

Don't hold your breath—it's also possible that nothing will be decided until well into 2006. If the negotiators go with the Senate's pro-drilling stance, the House might not accept the compromise. On the other hand, a version of the bill that doesn't include drilling might not pass the Senate. And there's no reason why Congress has to pass the budget at all. We didn't have a budget last year, for example.

Look for the GOP moderates in the House to have the final say on this version of the ANWR proposal since their opposition to the drilling provision is all that stands in its way. In past years, a Democratic minority had blocked attempts to open the refuge to drilling with filibusters, but they can't use that strategy against a budget proposal. If Congress does pass the budget with the drilling provision intact, President Bush will certainly sign it into law. (
Read more >>) (Ten years ago, lawmakers passed a budget that called for Arctic drilling, but former President Bill Clinton vetoed it.)

In any event, the new rules wouldn't even begin to affect ANWR for a couple of years. It would take at least that long for the government to auction off the land to private companies, and then another eight years or so before the companies could set up and begin commercial oil production. For those few years, say tour operators in Alaska, recreational travel to the refuge would flourish. They also say ANWR has seen a dramatic increase in visitors since Bush first pledged to open ANWR to drilling five years ago. (
Read more >>)

"People want to see the refuge before it changes," says Karen Jettmar, the director of
Equinox Wilderness Adventures who takes around a hundred people to the contested "1002 area" every summer. (Read more >>) Though the area proposed for development will only cover 1.5 million acres of the 19-million-acre refuge, Jettmar says drilling in this area will forever change the experience of being there. "At the edge of the mountains, you can look out and see for a hundred miles. If there's anything out there that's man-made, it will completely destroy the wilderness experience."

Even now, hikers can't get too close to nearby  
Prudhoe Bay, an area in the North Slope where companies have been drilling oil since the late 1960s. Signs warn off visitors from certain parts of the tundra, and official tours of the fields are limited in scope. (Read more >>) If the 1002 area were opened to drilling, says Jettmar, visitors would probably stay away from the North Slope altogether. That means they'd miss some of the most beautiful sights in the Alaska wilderness, such as the annual migration of the Porcupine caribou herd, which travels to the coastal plain every summer to calve. (Watch a video of the migration >>)


What's Next? Check back in for updates on Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.





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