March 31, 2004 --- Vol. 10, No. 35March 2004

Murkowski throws down gauntlet

With the rest of the nation gridlocked on energy issues, Alaska is moving ahead, Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski said this morning, announcing that some 350,000 acres in state waters off the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will be included in the state’s October Beaufort Sea areawide oil and gas lease sale.

Murkowski said he’s discussed the offshore leasing with North Slope Borough officials — the borough covers lands across the top of the state adjacent to the Beaufort Sea — and said that Tom Irwin, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, will be discussing the leasing with North Slope residents.

Exploration in state waters off ANWR would be done on the same basis as drilling done at the McCovey prospect offshore Prudhoe Bay: that agreement, the governor said, limited exploration work to protect whale migration.

As to why the state is moving ahead now, Murkowski noted that gasoline prices are the highest we’ve seen in many years.

“Many of us are of the opinion we’re being held hostage by OPEC, and have been for some time,” the governor said, noting that the price per barrel is well beyond the $18 to $22 range the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries set just two and a half years ago, and is now in the $36 to $37 a barrel range.

And while some have indicated there’s little we can do, “I beg to differ,” Murkowski said, noting that Prudhoe Bay once provided 2 million barrels a day of oil for the country, some 20 to 25 percent of U.S. production.

As Prudhoe has declined, and the nation has become more dependent on foreign oil, “we’ve basically moved our jobs offshore,” the governor said, and also increased our deficit of payments by purchasing foreign oil.

Alaska has resources, the governor said, and “if President Clinton had not vetoed ANWR, why, we’d have oil flowing today,” perhaps as much as 1.6 million barrels per day if the most optimistic estimates were to prove out.

Murkowski said Alaska is not going to stand by “and be held hostage by OPEC,” but is going to lease state acreage offshore ANWR, and is also moving ahead with a stratigraphic well in state waters.

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