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Vol. 16, No. 3 Week of January 16, 2011
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

ANWR wilderness bill back again; Begich pans ‘predictable’ offering

An East Coast congressman has reintroduced perennial legislation to designate the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness.

Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., has offered the Arctic Wilderness Act in every Congress since 2001. The last time he introduced the bill, in January 2009, it died in committee.

After Republicans took control the House of Representatives on Jan. 5, Markey rose to become the top-ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, quickly blasted Markey’s wilderness bill.

“I’ll make Congressman Markey a deal. I won’t legislate for Massachusetts and he stays out of Alaska’s business,” Begich said in a Jan. 6 press release.

‘Our last pristine wild places’

A release from Markey’s office said the reintroduction of the ANWR wilderness bill presages “the coming debate in the Natural Resources Committee over the expansion of dangerous drilling practices into America’s last pristine public lands.”

The release cited concerns about the oil industry’s capacity to respond to a spill in light of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. It also cited “recent studies” indicating that responding to a spill in colder environments would be more difficult and less effective.

“If we don’t enact permanent protections for the Refuge, oil companies and their allies in Congress will continue to push for shortsighted plans to drill our last pristine wild places,” Markey said. “Rather than drilling in the Arctic Refuge, we should be using safer, cleaner forms of energy made here in America to create a refuge from foreign oil.”

Markey continued: “When we look upon the Refuge decades from now, will we see a monument to America’s commitment to our natural heritage, or will we see the abandoned wells and spilled oil as a monument to our insatiable thirst for oil? Will the Refuge remain a monument to America’s wisdom or will our children and grandchildren only be able to see polar bears, caribou and other iconic animals carved in stone, monuments to our lack of foresight and innovation?”

Calls for conservation

Markey’s bill adds to recent pleas from mostly Democrats and environmental groups to strengthen protections for ANWR and the coastal plain, which is considered highly prospective for perhaps billions of barrels of oil.

In letters to the president, they have urged the Obama administration to designate ANWR as a national monument.

The 50th anniversary of the refuge’s birth has provided a rallying cry for those who would put essentially the entire refuge off-limits to industry activity.

On Dec. 6, 1960, Fred Seaton, Interior secretary under President Eisenhower, signed the public land order creating what originally was called the Arctic National Wildlife Range. In 1980, the unit was greatly expanded and renamed Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which today encompasses 19.3 million acres in Alaska’s northeast corner.

Aside from the calls for monument status, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuge, is considering whether to recommend new wilderness designations for ANWR including the coastal plain.

‘Will not be locked up’

Markey’s ANWR legislation would appear to have a tough road through the full Congress, with Republicans holding the majority in the House. Democrats retained control of the Senate after the last election.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., the new chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, has expressed support for ANWR drilling. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, is a member of the committee.

“The barren tundra in the northern plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to an estimated 3-9 billion barrels of recoverable oil which could provide roughly 1.5 million barrels per day for at least 25 years,” Young said in a Dec. 6 statement commemorating the ANWR anniversary.

Alaska’s Sen. Begich panned Markey’s reintroduced Arctic Wilderness Act.

“This annual piece of legislation to lock up one of America’s most promising oil and gas reserves is as predictable as New Year’s resolutions. But it has no more merit today than it did the first time it was introduced,” Begich said.

“The vast majority of ANWR is already off limits to development, but Congress specifically set aside 1.5 million acres along the coastal plain for oil and gas exploration. It has enormous potential and should be part of a national energy policy that will bring economic and national security to our country.

“I agree that we need to do more to develop alternative energy forms as part of our national plan, but to put ANWR off limits is shortsighted. ANWR will not be locked up.”

—Wesley Loy

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