State leaders push to take next steps on ANWR drilling

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and U.S. Rep. Don Young pose for a photos after speaking about the future of oil development in ANWR at an Anchorage event. (Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Now that Congress has approved drilling in part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), Alaska’s leaders are eagerly pursuing the next steps needed for oil development.

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This week, the Walker administration asked the legislature for $10 million to help pay for seismic testing on the coastal plain of the refuge. Seismic testing will provide the first clues about how much oil is in the refuge, and where.

Alaska Natural Resources commissioner Andy Mack told the state Senate Finance Committee that seismic testing could attract more oil companies to the Arctic Refuge lease sales.

“It would be a very powerful tool to generate interest and to make sure that we got the full value that is called for in this proposed lease sale,” Mack said.

In the new federal law allowing oil development in ANWR, half of the revenues will go to the state of Alaska, and the other half goes to the federal government. It also requires two lease sales to be held within the next seven years.

Senator Lisa Murkowski wrote that section of the bill. But Murkowski isn’t done with ANWR. After speaking at an event in Anchorage this week, the Senator told reporters there are a lot of details that need to be filled in.

“Our bill was five pages long. And in previous iterations of ANWR legislation, it has been 20, 30, 40 pages of bill text,” Murkowski said.

Murkowski said because Congress approved ANWR drilling as part of a budget bill, Senate rules prevented her from including non-budget items. That included protections for North Slope communities that could be impacted by drilling in the Refuge. The Senator said she plans to introduce legislation to help deal with those impacts, such as requiring air quality monitoring near oil developments.

Environmental groups vehemently oppose any oil development in the Arctic Refuge and are expected to mount legal challenges against efforts to drill there. Still, the Interior department is expected to roll out more details on oil lease sales in the Arctic Refuge in the coming weeks.

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Elizabeth Harball is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk, covering Alaska’s oil and gas industry and environmental policy. She is a contributor to the Energy Desk’s Midnight Oil podcast series. Before moving to Alaska in 2016, Harball worked at E&E News in Washington, D.C., where she covered federal and state climate change policy. Originally from Kalispell, Montana, Harball is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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