Senate blocks Alaska refuge drilling

| 12/5/2001

Senate Republicans failed earlier this week to secure enough votes to adopt legislation to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. The plan to drill in the refuge could be revived as part of an energy bill that is scheduled for Senate debate in January.

The drilling plan was a key component of President George W. Bush's plan to boost domestic energy supplies, but was opposed by Democrats. Initially, Republicans tried to add the drilling language to a widely supported bill to overhaul the railroad retirement system, but they were unable to secure the 60 votes needed to support the move and block a threatened filibuster by Democrats opposed to opening the refuge.

The Senate's failure to adopt the drilling language was a set back for the White House, which wants to give energy firms access to the refuge to boost domestic oil supplies and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Republicans believe the 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.