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Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR): Controversies for the 109th Congress

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Publication Date: January 2006

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: IB10136

Topic: Environment (Parks, nature reserves, and open spaces)

Abstract:

One major element of the energy debate is whether to approve energy development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in northeastern Alaska, and if so, under what conditions, or whether to continue to prohibit development to protect the area’s biological recreational, and subsistence values. ANWR is rich in fauna, flora, and commercial oil potential. Its development has been debated for over 40 years, but sharp increases in gasoline and natural gas prices from late 2000 to early 2001, terrorist attacks, further increases in 2004-2005, and infrastructure damage from hurricanes have intensified the debate. Few onshore U.S. areas stir as much industry interest as the northern area of ANWR. At the same time, few areas are considered more worthy of protection in the eyes of conservation and some Native groups. Current law forbids oil and gas leasing in the Refuge.

The FY2006 Budget Resolution (H.Con.Res. 95, H.Rept. 109-62) required that the House Resources and Senate Energy Committees achieve savings targets that would be difficult without including ANWR legislation. The Senate Budget Committee reported a title in S. 1932 (reconciliation) to open ANWR; supporters designed it to meet the savings target and Senate procedural restrictions on matters included in reconciliation bills.

ANWR provisions were struck from the House version of reconciliation (H.R. 4241) before floor consideration at the insistence of a group of Republican Members, according to press reports. The House then substituted its text for the Senate version of S. 1932. The difference on ANWR was a major issue in conference. The conference report (H.Rept. 109-362) omitted ANWR development. The House and Senate passed different versions of the report, but neither contained ANWR provisions. If further action occurs on the bill, few observers expect to see ANWR provisions, though they might resurface for FY2007.

Development advocates then added ANWR development to the conference report for the Defense appropriations bill (H.R. 2863). While the House passed the conference report with the ANWR provision, the ANWR title was removed after failure of a cloture motion in the Senate.

Development advocates argue that ANWR oil would reduce U.S. energy markets’ exposure to crises in the Middle East; lower oil prices; extend the economic life of the Trans Alaska Pipeline; and create jobs in Alaska and elsewhere in the United States. They maintain that ANWR oil could be developed with minimal environmental harm, and that the footprint of development could be limited to a total of 2,000 acres.

Opponents argue that intrusion on this ecosystem cannot be justified on any terms; that economically recoverable oil found (if any) would provide little energy security and could be replaced by cost-effective alternatives, including conservation; and that job claims are exaggerated. They maintain that development’s footprints, being scattered across the landscape, would have a greater impact than is implied by any limit on total acreage. They also argue that limits on footprints have not been worded to apply to extensive Native lands in the Refuge, which could be developed if the Refuge were opened.