Murkowski unveils ANWR drilling plan to Legislature
JUNEAU, Alaska -- Sen. Lisa Murkowski announced Tuesday she will soon author a bill to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with the help of new technology.
The announcement came during her address to a joint session of the state Legislature.
"I intend to introduce legislation that will enable the oil reserves beneath ANWR to be explored and produced through directional drilling from locations outside the exterior boundaries of the refuge," Murkowski said.
The directional drilling would allow the lands of ANWR to remain untouched, she said.
Murkowski says the bill would be a win-win between those advocating drilling in ANWR and those worried of its environmental effects, because the drills would be installed outside the refuge and drill at an angle underneath the surface.
Other legislators agreed that if the bill passes, the plan has promise.
"I think this could be a real compromise," Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said. "We can directional drill from the northwest corner. We can also direction drill from offshore one to three miles, that's still state waters."
But The Wilderness Society said it's not sitting pretty with the announcement.
"I don't think it's a win-win because you would still congressionally need to open an area that both Alaskans and the country think is biologically and culturally too sensitive," said Eleanor Huffines, Alaska regional director at The Wilderness Society. "And the majority, millions and millions of acres, that are open to development in the Arctic where there's no pending litigation, no controversy, and we would like to work with the senator and the oil companies to move that development forward."
Adrian Herrera with Arctic Power, a group dedicated to the oil industry, said the proposal is indeed a compromise.
"Senator Murkowski's position was very bold and very shrewd," he said in a phone interview. "I think she's trying to find a middle ground between the environmental movement's concerns for activity within the area and also the concerns and desire of the State of Alaska and the people of Alaska to tap into the resources."
Herrera also said Murkowski's legislation forces the hand of environmentalists to accept directional drilling or admit its stance is inflexible.
"Essentially the position of the environmental movement toward Alaska (would be), ‘We don't care where you drill for oil and gas. Anywhere in the Arctic, we're against it,'" he said.
Murkowski pointed out that with current technology, directional drills could remove only about 10 percent of what oil is likely available in ANWR.
"We recognize that oil and gas technology is hardly static," she said. "As technology advances, more of the reserve could be opened for development."
Said Wielechowski: "It will be very expensive, but if the reserves are what people say they are it could very well be worth it."
The bill awaits introduction in the U.S. Senate.
Murkowski also spoke out against the federal stimulus package signed into law this week, saying "For the sake of our country I hope it works better than I think it will."
She also said that many of her colleagues in Congress wondered why, with all the enthusiasm people in Alaska have to opening ANWR, why Alaska can't seem to get its act together and deliver its gas to the Lower 48.
Murkowski says if Alaska is not providing the Lower 48 with gas soon they'll buy it from somewhere else.
Jason Lamb and Rebecca Palsha