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Vol. 10, No. 45 Week of November 06, 2005
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

Battle escalates

ANWR combatants buttonhole Congressmen, square off as Senate nears vote

Rose Ragsdale

Petroleum News Contributing Writer

As Senate debate on budget reconciliation moved toward its final hours Nov. 2, supporters and opponents of oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge pulled out all the stops to sway Congress on the issue.

ANWR proponents intensified a round of visits to senators and congressmen on Capitol Hill led by Alaska Natives, while opponents launched a barrage of print and television ads aimed at moderate Republicans who have opposed ANWR drilling in the past.

ANWR drilling ambassadors, Inupiat Eskimos who traveled to Washington, D.C., courtesy of the North Slope Borough and Arctic Slope Regional Corp., spent the week visiting offices to persuade senators to authorize oil and gas drilling on the 1.5-million-acre ANWR coastal plain in the fiscal 2006 budget reconciliation package.

“They are doing seven or eight meetings a day, and they’re not used to this,” said Roger Herrera, a lobbyist working with pro-ANWR group Arctic Power. “It’s quite a burden, but they are keeping at it. They look like Eskimos and some of them are dressing like Eskimos.”

Natives willing to assess risks

Herrera said four teams of Natives are making quite an impression because they are willing to assess the risks of ANWR drilling in the discussion and have concluded that energy development of the 1002 Area Congress set aside for that purpose more than 20 years ago is worthwhile.

During the week of Oct. 24, 10 Inupiat Eskimos, Rex and Ramona Rock, Crawford and Laura Patkotak, Mary Ellen Ahmaogak, Bobbie Quintavel, Taquilik Hepa, George Kaleak, Mollie Pedersen and state Rep. Reggie Joule, D-Kotzebue, made 90 visits to members of the House of Representatives. Joined by reinforcements, they tackled the Senate Oct. 31.

Meanwhile, environmentalists and the Gwich’in, a small Native group who live more than 100 miles inland from ANWR’s coastal plain, voiced continued opposition to ANWR drilling in advertisements emphasizing that a vote in favor of the reconciliation bills will be construed by opponents as a vote in favor of Arctic drilling.

Drilling opponents

“A vote for reconciliation is a vote against the Arctic, no ifs, ands or buts about it,” U.S. PIRG executive director Gene Karpinski told reporters Oct. 31. Drilling opponents are running targeted ads in eight states — Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington — and more general ads nationally.

Drilling foes also picked up support from church groups who oppose other issues in the budget package, including cuts in student loans, Medicare and Medicaid. ANWR drilling is one of few revenue-enhancing provisions of the budget package, officially estimated to generate $2.4 billion in income from leases and fees for the federal government over five years.

John Johnson, a government relations official for the Episcopal Church, said Oct. 31 the church opposes ANWR drilling and the reconciliation measure because of “deep cuts to programs that serve the working poor, children and elderly.”

Johnson warned of a looming “Judgment Day” for lawmakers who back ANWR drilling and the reconciliation measure and cited opposition to the budget reconciliation legislation by four other denominations, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and the United Church of Christ.

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ANWR clears more hurdles

Bills that would open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling advanced on parallel tracks in both houses of Congress Nov. 3, though storm clouds may be gathering in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Early in a daylong session, the U.S. Senate defeated a motion, 51-48, to strike ANWR drilling language from S. 1932, the Deficit Reduction Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 2005.

Minutes later, the senators approved an amendment, 83-16, that imposes an export ban on oil produced in ANWR.

The votes, significant hurdles for the ANWR legislation, followed more than two days of debate on the Senate budget package.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who sponsored the anti-ANWR drilling amendment, argued that the nation “wants a better energy bill than a sweetheart deal for the oil companies in ANWR.”

Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., hailed defeat of the amendment as “a victory for the taxpayer and the consumer.”

The proposed export ban, sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jim Talent, R-Mo., arose from concerns that oil producers would ship ANWR oil to the highest bidder, arguably Asian countries, especially oil-hungry China.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said he opposed the amendment in principle, but would vote for it, provided its language did not violate Senate rules that would threaten ANWR drilling in the overall budget package.

“Today’s accomplishment is a big one for Alaska … We are at the point where this bill can now go to Conference, must survive the House, and eventually, we hope, get to the President,” Stevens said later in a statement.

Meanwhile, the House Budget Committee completed markup Nov. 3 of budget reconciliation legislation with provisions drafted by Resources Chairman Richard W. Pombo, R-Calif., including ANWR drilling.

The House budget reconciliation bill would save the federal government $53.9 billion over five years by cutting mandatory spending programs and producing new revenue streams. ANWR, offshore drilling, the sale of certain public lands and other provisions were included in the Resources Committee’s $3.7 billion revenue-enhancing package.

House Budget Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, singled out ANWR Nov. 2 as one issue that could derail the entire House budget reconciliation bill.

“I’m concerned about that,” Nussle told reporters, putting ANWR among three hurdles facing the bill.

Moderate House Republicans are urging House leaders to remove environmentally sensitive provisions - including language to allow drilling in ANWR and protected coastal waters - from the bill.

The GOP lawmakers leaning toward opposing the deficit-cutting budget package include Reps. Sherwood Boehlert of New York, Vernon J. Ehlers of Michigan, Wayne T. Gilchrest of Maryland, Mark Steven Kirk of Illinois, and H. James Saxton of New Jersey. These Republicans first expressed their opposition to ANWR drilling in August and lately have been meeting to formulate a strategy to leverage their concerns with GOP leaders, Gilchrest said.

Negotiations also have included lawmakers concerned about spending cuts to health care and food stamp programs, Gilchrest told reporters Nov. 2. But no consensus has emerged yet, he added.

House Democratic leaders say their caucus is unified in opposition to the spending reduction bill, leaving Republicans with little margin to lose votes.

But it’s not over until it’s over, says pro-ANWR drilling lobbyist Roger Herrera, who has been working Capitol Hill in recent weeks. Until now, the 30 or so moderate Republicans expressing dissatisfaction with the budget reconciliation bill have been left to vote their own interests, according to Herrera.

“We are seeing signs that the House leadership’s focus is beginning to be quite concentrated on budget reconciliation, with ANWR in it,” Herrera told Petroleum News Nov. 2. “Traditionally, the leadership persuades members to vote in the best interest of the party rather than in their own interests. If the House leadership is working them, then the chances of them ‘voting correctly,’ from our point of view, is greatly enhanced.

“It’s going to be a cliffhanger, no doubt about it,” Herrera continued. “The race isn’t over. It’s one hurdle jumped at a time, but you continue to sprint toward the finish.”

—Rose Ragsdale