Murkowski Introduces Bill to Authorize Arctic Drilling: 'Path Toward Greater Prosperity'

Sen. Lisa Murkowski / Getty Images
November 10, 2017

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R.) introduced a bill this week that would allow oil and gas drilling in her state's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR.

Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Natural Resources Committee, released legislation Wednesday to bring energy development to two areas encompassing at least 400,000 acres each in the refuge's coastal plain, known as the "1002 area," the Washington Post reports. Murkowski presented the bill, which would require Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to approve major lease sales for the territories, as a way to generate revenue for both Alaska and the federal government, reducing the deficit in the process.

"The legislation I released tonight will put us on a path toward greater prosperity by creating jobs, keeping energy affordable for families and businesses, generating new wealth, and strengthening our security—while reducing the federal deficit not just by $1 billion over ten years, but tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars over the decades to come," Murkowski said.

Republicans plan to include the measure in the federal budget to offset proposed tax cuts, and it would allow drillers to pay for mineral rights in the 1002 area, although it limits surface development to 2,000 acres. The legislation's royalty rate of at least 16.67 percent would be split evenly between Alaska and the federal government.

The Congressional Budget Office reported that the bill would raise about $1.1 billion from 2018 to 2027, although it did caution that there is no certainty on what potential bidders may pay to drill.

Longstanding opposition to drilling in ANWR has focused on the environmental effects. The 19.6 million-acre refuge is home to animals such as caribou and polar bears, and it has not seen seismic exploration in more than 30 years.

Another criticism of the measure is that drillers will not want to invest because of the relatively low price of crude oil in the current market.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I.) is one of several state lawmakers who see this move as a fiscally sound use of state resources.

"When Alaska became a state, we had a promise from the federal government in our statehood compact: we need to live off the resources in our land," Walker said. "Much like Midwestern states harvest the resources that grow on the ground, like wheat and corn, Alaska must harvest the resources in our ground."

Some Democrats are arguing that the measure would pave the way for the undesirable development of other national refuges.

"The question is, what's next? What other wildlife refuge in America are they going to mandate drilling in?" asked Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wash.), the top Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee. "And your area, and your state, might be next."