Drilling debate draws on security

| 11/8/2001

Lawmakers continue to dispute energy legislation about the usefulness of oil drilling in an Arctic wildlife refuge as the White House is linking the debate to national security and the September terrorist attacks.

The dispute has some Democrats in Congress and environmentalists accusing the Bush administration and Republicans of exploiting terrorist fears to allow drilling in an area where oil won't actually be pumped for a decade, according to published reports.

President Bush has said that developing more energy supplies at home is in the nation's best interest, stressing the country's heavy reliance on foreign oil. He has demanded that the Senate take up energy legislation and get a bill to his desk as soon as possible.

The House already has approved energy legislation, including drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But, in the Senate, an energy bill that months ago was viewed as a priority has been placed on the back burner, eclipsed by the response of the Sept. 11 attacks and a slumping economy.

Republicans believe the Alaska refuge's millions of barrels of oil can be drilled without endangering the environment. Key Democrats, however, have promised environmentalists they will protect the refuge from drilling, which includes blocking possible legislation.

The government estimates that at least 5.7 billion barrels - and possibly as many as 16 billion barrels - may be recoverable from the refuge, according to published reports. Environmentalists argue that the refuge has no more than 3.2 billion barrels, not enough to dramatically ease the nation's reliance on imports.