Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry
June 2006

Vol. 11, No. 23 Week of June 04, 2006

Bush praises House for ANWR green light

Proponents say bill may be best chance to see oil and gas development in Arctic coastal plain approved by U.S. Congress this year

Rose Ragsdale

For Petroleum News

The U.S. House of Representatives voted May 25 to allow limited energy development in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, marking the 12th time the body has signed off on ANWR drilling and potentially creating a strong vehicle to win over the U.S. Senate this year.

House members voted 225-201 to direct the Interior Department to sell oil and gas leases on the 1.5 million acres in ANWR known as the 1002 Area. Geologists say the area could hold more than 10 billion barrels of recoverable oil that can be accessed using only 2,000 acres.

The legislation, House Resolution 5429, the American-Made Energy and Good Jobs Act, came to the House floor just before the Memorial Day recess.

The House vote fell heavily along party lines. Twenty-seven Democrats joined the Republican majority in support of the legislation, while 30 Republicans opposed the measure.

The House action won praise from President Bush, who immediately urged the U.S. Senate to join the House in passing ANWR legislation.

“I applaud today’s vote in the House to allow for environmentally responsible energy exploration in a small part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” Bush said May 25. “A reliable domestic supply of energy is important to America’s security and prosperity. This project will keep our economy growing by creating jobs and ensuring that businesses can expand. And it will make America less dependent on foreign sources of energy, eventually by up to a million barrels of crude oil a day — a nearly 20 percent increase over our current domestic production.”

Bush also singled out House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif., for praise. Pombo introduced the measure and, along with other House GOP leaders, hemmed it in with procedural rules to limit opponents’ chances to derail the measure.

Viewed by many as being mostly symbolic, the legislation prevailed after only a couple of hours of debate. Opponents say the House has approved ANWR drilling repeatedly in past years, only to see it fail in the Senate.

Approval of the legislation, they say, more accurately reflected the desire of House members to take home legislation during the holiday break that will show constituents they are working to curb high gasoline prices.

Test will be in Senate

The real test, they say, will come later this summer, when the Senate takes up ANWR legislation. In the past, ANWR bills have been blocked in the Senate by the threat of a Democratic filibuster. ANWR supporters have been unable to gather the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, coming closest in December with 57 ballots in favor of development.

Currently, a provision allowing oil drilling on ANWR’s coastal plain is part of a fiscal 2007 budget resolution package in the Senate that narrowly won approval 51-49 in March. That legislation includes language instructing the Senate Energy Committee to raise $3 billion by immediately opening ANWR’s coastal plain, or 1002 Area, to oil and gas leasing.

The House, however, did not include ANWR drilling in its budget bill and both houses do not appear to be inclined to conference on the budget, said Jerry Hood, a lobbyist working Arctic Power, a pro-ANWR development group representing many Alaskans. “So the budget process is no longer available for ANWR legislation unless something drastically changes. Thus, the vote in the House becomes so much more than symbolic. It is fast becoming the only chance for ANWR in this Congress.”

Meanwhile, a host of external forces, including world events and high energy prices, are putting pressure on Congress to do something meaningful, Hood said May 31.

“This makes the House vote very important,” he said. “We will be in discussions with folks in the Senate next week to see what we can do to move forward.”

“I am ever the optimist,” Hood said, and ANWR supporters have tools available to them this time around that they have never had before. We can mount pressure on the Senate to take action.”

Many observers, however, predict the election in November will bring a change in the majorities of both houses of Congress.

“If that happens,” says Hood, “it will put ANWR on ice for a long time.”

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