A group of legislators has introduced a bill to protect Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling. The bill, if enacted, would designate ANWR’s coastal plain as wilderness.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, a Trump administration initiative approved by a Republican-dominated Congress, opened that portion of ANWR to fossil fuel development after decades of controversy surrounding preservation of the refuge.
“This bill would ensure that one of the most imperiled pieces of our natural heritage will be protected now and for future generations of Americans,” Kristen Miller, executive director of Alaska Wilderness League, said. “We cannot afford to create more climate disasters when scientists agree that an urgent transition is needed to cleaner energy sources.”
Nineteen U.S. senators are listed as co-sponsors of the proposed legislation, with Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) in the lead. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Cal.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.) introduced the bill in the House of Representatives. An additional 37 members of the House are co-sponsors.
Political battles over ANWR have raged since the 1980s. Opponents of drilling on the coastal plain were able to prevent any mandates to open the refuge for oil and gas exploration until Republicans attached an amendment compelling oil and gas extraction there to a tax cut plan proposed during former President Donald Trump’s first year in office.
About 1.5 million acres of ANWR would be added to the National Wilderness Preservation System if the bill becomes law. The proposed designation tracks a 2015 recommendation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Similar bills have been introduced in previous Congresses.
Image courtesy Alaska Wilderness League, photo by Florian Schulz.
The New York Times, in an online article that appeared Monday evening, reports that the Obama administration will announce Tuesday a decision to allow oil exploration on the Atlantic coast while forbidding it in areas of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off Alaska.
Areas along the Eastern seaboard that would be affected by the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management decision would be between Virginia and Georgia.
No oil exploration has occurred off the country’s Atlantic coast since the early 1980s. However, political pressure to resume the practice has grown in recent years. In March 2010 President Barack Obama said that he favored drilling off the East coast states shorelines, but in the aftermath of that year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill along the Gulf coast, the Department of Interior decided to hold off issuing any leases until at least 2017.
A Dec. 2014 study by BOEM concluded that the mean quantity of oil beneath the Atlantic waves and under the continental shelf could be as much as 4.72 billion barrels. The amount exploitable between Virginia and Georgia would likely be as much as about 3 billion barrels, according to the agency. BOEM also found that the area along the coast that encompasses Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia may also hide about 25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
The decision on Arctic drilling would follow the announcement Sunday by President Barack Obama that he will ask Congress to designate more than 12 million additional acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness. That designation, if approved by Congress, would included the refuge’s coastal plain.
About 7 million acres of the 54-plus year old Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was preserved from most forms of natural resource exploitation in 1980.
Obama’s effort to nearly triple the wilderness acreage in the Mollie Beattie Wilderness would, if successful, create the largest single component of the National Wilderness Preservation System.