Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Oil Debate in Alaska Is All in a Name by Renaming the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Oil Interests Hope to Open the Area to Drilling

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Oil Debate in Alaska Is All in a Name by Renaming the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Oil Interests Hope to Open the Area to Drilling

Article excerpt

WHAT'S in a name? In the case of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), a semantic debate over its moniker has broad implications for the enduring conflict between environmental preservation and oil development.

To environmentalists, the 1.5 million acre coastal plain - a narrow strip of land bordered by the Brooks Range and the Arctic Ocean - is the coastline's last undeveloped wildlife haven and the irreplaceable calving ground for the porcupine caribou herd.

To the oil industry, the coastal plain, which is near the oil-rich Prudhoe Bay, is the nation's last, best hope for a new "elephant," or giant oil field. The natural oil that seeps out of rocks in the plain is evidence of riches that lie below.

Now Alaska's two pro-oil, Republican senators and other proponents of ANWR drilling argue that the coastal plain isn't really part of the 19.3 million acre wildlife refuge after all. And in an apparent effort to make the idea of drilling beneath the plain more palatable to the public, they have renamed it the "Arctic oil reserve."

"It never was ANWR," said Sen. Frank Murkowski, chairman of the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee, in a recent speech to an Alaska business group. It is "really the Arctic oil reserve, to be set aside by Congress," he said.

The name is changing, said Sen. Ted Stevens recently, "because the {drilling} opponents, a very extreme group, try to leave the impression that we're trying to lease the whole Arctic wildlife refuge."

"We are not trying to lease the wilderness. It never was wilderness. It has always been available for oil and gas leasing," Senator Stevens says.

Until now, Congress - which has the authority to allow drilling on the ANWR coastal plan - has bowed to environmentalists' concerns and blocked the move.

But this spring, Congress has moved closer than ever to authorizing ANWR oil development by treating the issue as a budget matter rather than an environmental issue. Separate budget bills passed last month by the House and the Senate include federal revenues of between $1.25 billion and $2.3 billion from ANWR oil and gas leasing in the coming years. …

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