December 2, 2017
Sweeping new tax legislation passed early Saturday morning by the US Senate will open up a one-and-a-half-million acre portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska for oil and gas drilling.
The area known as ANWR consists of nearly 20 million acres, but a portion known as the “1002” area is known to be rich in fossil fuels — with billions of barrels below the surface — and was set aside by Congress in 1980 for possible drilling.
The new legislation concentrates on a 2,000 acre section of the 1002 area, with drilling revenue to go to the state of Alaska and to the federal government.
The House and Senate now must reconcile their versions of the bill.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said the legislation will now “move quickly to a conference committee so we can get a final bill to President Trump’s desk.”
Government leaders in Alaska have been especially enthusiastic about opening up the area for drilling to make up for lost revenue following a downturn in drilling that has seen the state oil production drop to about one-quarter of what it was 30 years ago.
The inclusion of the ANWR provision in the new tax law is seen as a victory for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee and its chairwoman, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who had introduced legislation opening up ANWR only to see it fail over and over.
Opposition to drilling in ANWR goes back decades as the wildlife refuge is home to caribou, polar bears and moose that conservationists say need to be protected.
Murkowski has said she is confident that drilling activity would not end up hurting wildlife in the relatively small section of the refuge that would be opened to oil and gas exploration.