U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today introduced legislation that would allow the use of advanced directional drilling to tap the vast energy potential of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain without disturbing the unique characteristics of the area.
The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, would allow access to the coastal plain’s oil and natural gas resources through the use of underground directional drilling from state-owned lands to the west of the refuge and state waters from the north.
“Everybody wins with this bill – America improves its energy security and the conservation community is ensured that there will be no visible impact on the refuge,” Murkowski said. “I urge those previously opposed to oil and gas exploration in ANWR to take a fresh look at this issue and show a willingness to compromise.”
The legislation seeks to find a compromise with those groups concerned with preserving the 1.5 million acre coastal plain while recognizing the need to improve our energy security and economy by meeting more of our energy needs with domestic production.
“Directional drilling provides a great opportunity to tap the Arctic refuge’s vast oil and gas potential with minimal disruption to the wild lands and the wildlife which depend on them,” Begich said. “I have been a long-time supporter of this cutting-edge technology and am hopeful this measure will help lead to an informed discussion about how to address America’s energy needs and how Alaska can help meet them. Developing the enormous energy resources on Alaska’s North Slope should be part of a comprehensive national energy policy which also includes renewable energy and conservation.”
Begich added that he appreciates Murkowski’s leadership on this issue as she steers the legislation with her ranking position on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Directional drilling would allow energy companies to reach oil deposits up to eight miles away with no surface occupancy in the refuge. Production platforms on state lands and waters would be far away from the calving areas most used by the Porcupine caribou herd that visits the coastal plain in summer.
The bill is based on the successful compromise reached in the Wyoming Range Legacy Act of 2007, which permitted resources to be accessed underground through directional drilling in a new wilderness area as long as there was no permanent surface impacts.
Revenue raised from development of ANWR would be distributed evenly between the state and federal treasuries. The bill also includes $15 million of mitigation impact aid to North Slope residents. A portion of the federal proceeds would also be dedicated to renewable energy, energy efficiency and wildlife habitat and mitigation programs nationwide.
Development of the coastal plain could create as many as 700,000 new high-paying jobs and provide badly needed revenue – as much as $112 billion in royalties, lease payments and corporate taxes – for the nation’s new energy priorities.
The Department of the Interior estimates that more than 1 billion barrels of oil and 7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas are available within eight miles of the western edge of ANWR, and are reachable through directional drilling. While this represents just 10 percent of the oil and about 80 percent of the gas estimated to be contained beneath the refuge, future advances in directional drilling technology will allow companies to capture an ever increasing amount of the area’s resources.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the ANWR coastal plain contains between 10 billion and 16 billion barrels of oil, and 8.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas – making it the largest undeveloped onshore conventional oil deposit in North America.