President Bush Proposes to Begin Drilling on ANWR in 2005

President Bush submitted his proposed budget to Congress on Monday. In his budget, he proposes to open Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration and begin leasing tracts in the refuge to oil companies in 2005. In his budget, the president says leasing ANWR land would raise $2.4 billion in leasing fees in 2005, and half that amount would go toward increased funding for the Energy Department's renewable energy technology research programs over a seven-year period.

The administration said it wants to lease between 400,000 acres and 600,000 acres in the refuge's coastal plain in 2005. The refuge covers 19 million acres, but only the area's 1.5 million acre coastal plain would be accessible to energy companies.

On Monday, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said the administration would still support a compromise that Republican lawmakers offered last year to limit drilling activities in ANWR to just 2,000 acres (809 hectares) at any one time in the 1.5 million acres that would be opened to exploration.

Last year the Democrat-led Senate defeated efforts to open the refuge when drilling supporters fell short of the 60 votes needed to end debate on the controversial proposal and allow a final vote on the measure.

Senate Republicans who support ANWR drilling will likely seize this year on the administration's estimate of how much money would be brought in from leasing fees. Backers of drilling in the refuge want to add enabling language to the 2004 budget bill, which cannot be filibustered and would need only 50 votes to pass. Vice President Dick Cheney would be expected to break any tie vote in the 100-member Senate in favor of ANWR drilling.

The Interior Department estimates the refuge could hold between 5.7 billion and 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil. If ANWR were opened, it would take about eight years before the area reached full oil production.