Senate OKs drilling in Alaskan reserve

| 3/16/2005

The U.S. Senate voted March 16 to allow drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Wording to allow the drilling was contained in Senate Concurrent Resolution 18, which is the annual appropriations resolution for the fiscal year 2006 budget. The Senate voted March 16 on an amendment that would have removed that wording, stopping the drilling from taking place.

The upper chamber of Congress voted 51-49 against the amendment – and for drilling – at 1:45 p.m. EST, according to the Senate Web site. While some senators crossed party lines, the majority voting to allow drilling were Republicans; most voting to stop drilling were Democrats.

The amendment was initially offered by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA.

“Drilling in the Arctic is not the right answer to national security problems. Drilling for oil on protected lands is the wrong approach at the wrong time,” said Cantwell, a member of the Senate’s Energy Committee, in a prepared statement before the vote.

However, supporters of drilling pointed to fuel prices, both diesel and gasoline, which are hovering at near-record levels.

“Oil just hit 56 bucks a barrel, and we’re 58 percent reliant on foreign oil,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, told Bloomberg news. “It’s enough oil to save America from writing a $54 million check to OPEC every day at our current prices.”

Sen. Pete V. Domenici, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, agreed, telling The Boston Globe, “instead of begging OPEC to drop its oil prices, let's use American leadership and ingenuity to solve our own energy problems.”

The Bush administration has long supported drilling in the refuge – commonly referred to by its abbreviation, ANWR – as a way to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

“I am concerned about the price of energy. I’m concerned about what it means to the average American family when they see the price of gasoline going up. I’m concerned what it means to small businesses,” President Bush said during a news conference March 16. “I hope Congress passes ANWR. There’s a way to get some additional reserves here at home on the books.”

As the Senate voted, the price of crude oil was surging to sky-high levels, finally closing at $56.46 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, and diesel in most parts of the country remained above $2 a gallon.

The measure to allow drilling in the refuge must still be passed by the House before it becomes law.