Aerial view of the North Slope Oil Facility in Alaska, taken during ShoreZone mapping in Alaska's arctic. This large gravel pad is designed to insulate underlying permafrost, hopefully preventing melting that destroyed many early roads and pads. Photo: Ground Truth Trekking

By Devin Henry
22 October 2017

(The Hill) – The Senate's budget vote on Thursday was the opening salvo in what's likely to be a bitter fight over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

President Trump, key officials in his administration and leading Republicans support drilling in ANWR, an expanse of 19 million acres of land — about the size of South Carolina — above the Arctic Circle in Alaska, 1.5 million of which was set aside for potential oil exploration and development.

But greens uniformly oppose any effort to produce oil in the refuge, which they consider a pristine frontier of American landscape.

Here's what to know about ANWR and how this debate will play out.

What’s at stake?

President Eisenhower established the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska in 1960. When Congress expanded it 20 years later, lawmakers specifically carved out a 1.5 million-acre region on Alaska’s North Slope for potential future oil development.

The refuge is an untouched region of Alaskan wilderness, supporting the habitat of caribou, wolves, polar bears, and hundreds of species of migratory birds. The porcupine caribou herd, which migrates across the refuge, is sacred to the Gwich’in Indian Nation, who live in the region.

“Americans know that this is one of the last wild corners left,” said Andy Moderow, the state director of the Alaska Wilderness League.

“We are talking about whether we want to draw the line and keep it for future generations, or we want to let it look like the rest of the slope,” where energy development is permitted. […]

Gas flares stand outside BP's Central Gas Facility in Prudhoe Bay. Photo: Bloomberg / Getty Images

The Senate takes up the fight

The Senate’s budget resolution, passed on a 51-49 vote on Thursday, directs the Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee to raise $1 billion in revenue or savings for the federal government over the next decade.

The budget doesn’t formally say that should come from drilling in ANWR, but that’s considered the easiest way to raise that revenue.

The ENR committee is chaired by a proponent of ANWR drilling, Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who led the charge against an anti-drilling amendment on the Senate floor Thursday.

She indicated this week that drilling in ANWR will be a central piece of any committee effort to reach its revenue goal. […]

“The notion that we, tonight, after 60-plus years, would give up what is a biologically important area, a critical habitat for polar bears, a breeding ground for caribou, migratory birds, and over 200 species — for what? For oil we don’t need?” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the ENR Committee, said Thursday. [more]

Everything you need to know about the coming Trump Arctic drilling debate

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