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 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.