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Spring 2005 - Act•ionLine

by Bill Dollinger | Spring 2005

Arctic Refuge Again Threatened By Oil Drilling Proponents

The push to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge appears, to many observers, as a bid to pave the way for drilling in environmentally sensitive areas which are currently off-limits. And the Bush administration, emboldened by the 2004 election, is leading a new assault to open the Arctic Refuge to big oil. As ActionLine goes to press, efforts are underway to introduce a measure in the budget bill of the 109th Congress.

By inserting funds from oil leases from the Arctic Refuge into the annual budget bill, the measure’s proponents have shielded their proposal from one possible recourse of more thoughtful lawmakers: the filibuster. It takes 60 votes to end the tactically long argument known as the filibuster — a daunting number. So pro-drillers avoided the more obvious option of framing the proposal as energy legislation. Budget bills are safe from the filibuster.

The last attempt to allow drilling in the Arctic Refuge was through a proposed amendment to the 2003 budget bill. Senators voted against the proposed amendment, 52 to 48. Three Senators who opposed drilling have since been replaced. Their seats are now filled by Senators Mel Martinez (R-FL), Jim DeMint (R-SC), and Richard Burr (R-NC). As members of the House of Representatives, DeMint and Burr voted for drilling. Martinez has gone on record as supporting drilling in the Arctic Refuge, but may be persuaded to change that position in light of calls from Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, to revive gas drilling off Florida’s coast.

Drilling will not significantly lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that less than a six-month supply of oil could be economically recovered from the Arctic Refuge (about 3.2 billion barrels, spread out over a 50-year period), and that it would take at least 10 years of exploration, drilling and pipeline construction before the oil would reach refineries. In 2027, the projected peak year of production, the Arctic Refuge would yield less than 2% of projected U.S. consumption.

Fortunately, the public is steadfast in its support for the pristine land. A Zogby International poll, conducted on Dec. 21, 2004, found 55% against drilling in contrast to the 38% who backed it.

Industry support for drilling in the refuge appears to be fading as oil companies look to increase production from fields already established in Alaska and elsewhere. In early January, ConocoPhillips, the largest oil company operating on the North Slope of Alaska, announced it was dropping out of Arctic Power, the lobbying group that promotes drilling in the refuge. British Petroleum, the second-largest operator on the North Slope, left Arctic Power in November of 2002. 1

Drilling proponents insist that the area slated for development would be limited to a 2000-acre segment of the refuge. Yet in a 2003 study of the effect of drilling on Alaska’s North Slope, the National Academy of Sciences found that the environmental effects of roads, well pads, pipelines and other infrastructure on the landscape, water systems, vegetation, and animals extend well beyond the “footprint”, or physical area covered.2 The incentive for damage is even more complex, considering reports by the U.S. Geological Survey, that the distribution of potential oil and gas of the Arctic Refuge is not likely to be located in one spot, but scattered in several deposits across the Coastal Plain.3

Another claim of drilling proponents is that the Coastal Plain of the refuge is “empty, wasted land,” and that oil drilling operations in Prudhoe Bay show a successful example of environmentally sound development.
Several representatives of Friends of Animals have been to the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain; we have first-hand knowledge of what is at stake. The Coastal Plain is the nation’s most important polar bear denning habitat. It also hosts up to 300,000 snow geese who stay there when readying themselves for their southern migration. It is home to the 130,000 migrating caribou of the Porcupine herd. The area slated for development includes the land which this herd has used as a birthing ground for 25 years.

We have also visited Prudhoe Bay, now an industrial complex and an environmental disaster. We cannot allow a similar fate for the Coastal Plain. The reasons to preserve the Arctic Refuge have not changed since the 108th Congress did just that. In important ways, this pristine land does not just belong to us. It provides a home for hundreds of thousands of other species of animals. It belongs to all of them, and to the world.

What You Can Do

Please contact your senators and Congressional representatives and ask them to actively oppose any and all attempts to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and exploration. It is especially helpful to visit the state offices of your senator or representatives. If you are able to do this, contact Bill Dollinger in our Washington DC office, at 202.296.2172.

You can locate your senators and representatives at

The Honorable ______
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Congressional Switchboard 202-224-3121

The Honorable ______
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Congressional Switchboard 202-224-3121

  • 1. Mary Pemberton, “Conoco Pulls Out of Group Pushing for ANWR Drilling” (Associated Press; 7 Jan. 2005).
  • 2. National Academy of Sciences, “Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activities on Alaska’s North Slope” (2003).
  • 3. U.S. Geological Service, “The Oil and Gas Resource Potential of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 1002 Area, Alaska” (Open-file Report, at 98-34; 1999).
Bill Dollinger

Act•ionLine Spring 2005

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