By LIZ RUSKIN
Anchorage Daily News
September 13, 2005
The Senate was supposed to finish work on its ANWR-opening budget measure this week. But delay does not mean defeat. In fact, drilling proponents are predicting that the hurricane's disruptions to oil production in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the high gasoline prices, will increase congressional support for drilling in the Arctic refuge.
"ANWR will have greater support than it would have had before Katrina," predicted Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.
He and other drilling supporters in the Senate have failed in recent years to get enough votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster. This year, they're trying to pass ANWR legislation as part of the budget reconciliation bill. That fast-tracked bill - a package of budget cuts and tax breaks - is immune from filibuster, and thus needs only 51 votes to pass the Senate.
Stevens, in an interview Friday, said that from now on he expects every vote on ANWR to go his way, for development.
"I would say woe onto him or her who really opposes the actions that are going to be necessary to restore our energy pattern," Stevens said.
Environmentalists are gearing up for the fight this fall. This week they are working to put out the message that drilling in the Arctic refuge would have only a negligible effect on fuel prices.
"Oil from the Arctic (refuge) will not reduce the price of a gallon of gas or help consumers," Athan Manuel told reporters Tuesday. He works for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, one of many organizations campaigning to keep ANWR undeveloped.
His argument is based on the amount of oil believed to lie under the coastal plain of the refuge.
The area contains some 10 billion barrels of oil, according to the government's mean estimate. While that makes ANWR one of the nation's best on-shore prospects, environmentalists emphasize that America's petroleum reserves are tiny compared to resources in the Middle East, while U.S. consumption is enormous.
"The U.S. simply cannot drill its way to energy security, nor can we drill our way to lower gas prices," Dan Lashof, a representative of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Tuesday, repeating a popular refrain among conservationists. Weaning the nation off its addiction oil is the only real solution, Lashof said.
Drilling supporters say ANWR could produce about a million barrels a day and would help diversify domestic production - a point that drilling supporters have made repeatedly since Katrina struck the Gulf Coast.
"Especially now, we have to think about what another million barrels of oil a day would mean for the country's energy outlook," Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said at an energy hearing following the hurricane.
The nation produced about 5 million barrels a day last year and imported another 10 million per day, according to the Energy Information Administration. That agency estimated last year that if ANWR were developed, it would lower the price per barrel about 1.5 percent.
Conservationists often note that even if Congress opened ANWR tomorrow, oil would not flow for about 10 years.
John Katz, who heads Gov. Frank Murkowski's office in Washington, said even if the country conserves more and turns to more alternative energies over the next decade, ANWR oil still would be an important addition to the market.
"As a practical matter, 10 years from now there's going to be a heavy reliance on oil, and Katrina has taught us we don't want to be in this situation again," Katz said.
He, like Stevens, was optimistic that Congress' budget reconciliation bill will include a provision opening ANWR, but the package remains controversial for its tax breaks and a proposal to cut $10 billion from Medicaid over the next five years. Congressional Democrats - and a few Republicans - say Katrina has lessened the appetite for cutting programs poor people rely on.
Western Service, http://www.shns.com
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