The U.S. Senate recently voted 54-46 to reject a proposal to open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska to oil exploration. Senate Republicans needed 60 votes to break a Democrat led filibuster of an amendment, introduced by Alaska's senators to the Senate energy bill.
Alaska Senators Frank Murkowski and Ted Stevens, both Republicans, are now expected to withdraw their amendment. The Murkowski-Stevens amendment would have opened the coastal plain of ANWR to energy exploration, limiting the acreage that could be developed at any one time to 2,000 acres. The same provision was written into the House energy bill passed last year. Stevens said he was not giving up on ANWR drilling and will offer a new amendment to allow the Native Americans who live within the refuge to drill on the 92,000 acres they own and then transport their crude over a new 75-mile pipeline across ANWR that would connect to a pipeline at nearby Prudhoe Bay.
The Administration and many Senate Republicans framed the ANWR debate as a national security issue, saying the up to 16 billion barrels of oil estimated in the refuge were crucial to reduce U.S. dependence on crude from unfriendly countries like Iraq. But Senate Democrats said the refuge does not hold enough oil to significantly reduce U.S. imports. Also ANWR is home to polar bears, caribou and other wildlife that could be threatened by oil drilling and its heavy equipment, roads and buildings.