ANWR oil production could be 'giant' if approved by Senate
The 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has long been designated and set aside for potential oil and gas development in the future. That future could be now, as Republicans near a vote in the Senate to allow oil drilling in the refuge attached to an overhaul of the nation's tax code.
"We think on conservative estimates that are dated, but conservative estimates, we think there could be about 10 billion barrels of oil in the 1002 area," said Alaska Oil and Gas Association President Kara Moriarty. "We have produced over 17 billion barrels of oil to date from Prudhoe, Kuparuk and North Slope combined. So it is potentially is another giant."
In the past, Republicans have needed 60 votes to open ANWR in the narrowly GOP-held 52-48 Senate. This time, because it's part of the tax bill, just 51 votes are needed -- which means it could pass with just Republicans' votes. That isn't sitting well with some people.
"I think it's cheating and I think it's unjust," said Sierra Club Alaska Chapter Chair Yasuhiro Ozuru. "This issue is, Why is this attached to the tax bill? Because the tax bill is going to cause a lot of defecit in the future. Therefore it's a budget issue. In order to alleviate the budget shortfall, they attach it to make up some money. That's why the only votes they need is 51, because it's going as a budget reconciliation process. They've tried a number of times to get the 60 votes and never succeeded."
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says the drilling could generate $1.1 billion over the next decade.
"I think the proposal for the ANWR lease is a 50/50 split," Moriarty said. "Again, that's only one component of what the State of Alaska would receive if there was eventual production from ANWR. We would have to pay production tax, corporate income tax, property tax and the jobs and long term benefits throughout all of Alaska, not just the state treasury, would be tremendous."
Others say drilling in ANWR would have costs, including disrupting locals and their habitat.
"Some birds you see in the winter time in the Lower 48 states fly up here and nest in that area," Ozunu said. "The Gwich'in people live there, have been there for many years. They help caribou and caribou help them. They are very reliant on what's called the Porcupine caribou. I'm concerned how drilling there would disrupt the way of life there. People will come from all over and won't stay. The jobs created won't necessarily go to local people, it will go to outsiders who will spend the money made out of state. I don't like it."
Ozunu feels the government relies too heavily on oil and doesn't want to see lawmakers take the easy way out.
"If we give an easy way out for the state leaders by financing our support with just oil, oil, oil, oil, nothing is going to change and I don't think we can rely on this for the next hundred years," Ozunu said. "I like to fish in Kenai. What will it look like in 50 to 100 years. We need to protect our areas so future generations can enjoy them as well."
The Trump Administration says the president will be open to approving ANWR lease sales for oil drilling, if it passes along with the federal tax budget in the very near future. It's a decision that would be a huge game changer for the oil business.
"Prudhoe Bay has produced over 12 billion barrels and counting in the last 40 years," Moriarty said. "The potential and the impact is tremendous if the lease sales occur in ANWR."