Citing an increase in domestic energy production and job creation, the House Natural Resources Committee proposed legislation Friday that would open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and natural gas production.
Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, of Washington, and Alaska Rep. Don Young announced plans to introduce the Alaskan Energy for American Jobs Act, which is part of the energy and infrastructure jobs bill announced by Ohio Rep. John Boehner in early November.
Officials said the act would open less than 3 percent of ANWR's 19 million acres in the North Slope, which the U.S. Geological Survey estimates contains at least 10.4 billion barrels of oil and at peak production can yield nearly 1.5 million barrels of oil per day -- more than the current daily U.S. imports from Saudi Arabia. The area was specifically set aside for energy production by Congress and President Jimmy Carter.
"ANWR is a site that is easily accessible, has great potential and is one of America's most highly concentrated areas of energy resources," Hastings said. "An investment in America's energy security is an investment job creation and infrastructure projects that will benefit every American without job destroying tax increases."
The committee held an oversight hearing in September with local Alaskans vocalizing their support for the bill, saying the plan "benefits local communities, tribes, businesses, Alaska and the nation."
Young said the Highway Trust Fund is struggling "to stay in the black" and believes the Alaskan Energy for American Jobs Act will provide new sources of revenue to fund infrastructure projects.
"This is a common sense plan; the revenue generated from drilling in ANWR will help keep the Highway Trust Fund from defaulting and will create jobs at the same time," Young said.
Carey Hall, an Ice Road Truck Drive with Carlile Transportation Systems believes the plan will keep the Trans-Alaska Pipeline from shutting down, securing jobs for decades to come.
"ANWR is not a band aid for our debt and economy; it is a long term sustainable solution," Ice Hall said during the oversight hearing.
Environmentalists aren't sold on the plan though, saying the benefits are exaggerated. In an interview with the Associated Press on Nov. 11, Pamela Miller said the "legislation is dead on arrival" and it proposes a "false solution to a real crisis." Sierra Club Alaska community organizer Lindsey Hajduk told the AP the connection to jobs is "weak".
Technological advancements have improved the safety of energy production while also lessening environmental impacts of drilling, such as using one drilling platform to cover a 28,000 foot radius -- larger than the size of Washington D.C.
"ANWR would be a great opportunity for the environmental community and the oil industry to work closely together and show what American technology and ingenuity could do," Alaska District Council of Laborers (ADCL) Tim Sharp said in the oversight hearing. ADCL represents approximately 5,000 Alaskan union members.
Fenton Okomailak Rexford, Tribal Administrator for the Native Village of Katovik, said development of the North Slope will keep his community alive by sustaining a local school and continuing to provide search and rescue, police and fire protection.
"We would not favor development of the Coastal Plain unless we were confident that development can occur without jeopardizing our way of life. Responsible development of ANWR is a matter of self-determination for my people," Rexford said. "Development of the Coastal Plain of ANWR is a win-win situation for the American people, particularly for those of us who call this area home."
The bill is expected to move through the House in the coming weeks. The Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources is set to hear testimony Nov. 18.
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