ANWR drilling remains a question

March 16, 2009 

WASHINGTON -- Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Monday he would consider tapping oil from Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by drilling outside its boundaries if it can be shown that the refuge's wildlife and environment will remain undisturbed.

But Salazar emphasized that the Obama administration stands firm that the Alaska refuge, known as ANWR, "is a very special place" that must be protected and that he is not yet convinced directional drilling would meet that test.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has introduced legislation that would allow companies access to oil beneath the Arctic refuge's coastal plain through directional drilling from outside the refuge itself. Murkowski contends such drilling would leave the refuge surface land undisturbed, protecting wildlife.

"The question of whether or not you can do directional drilling without impairing the ecological values of ANWR is an open question. Most of what I've seen up to this point is it would not be possible to do that," Salazar said in a conference call with reporters.

The directional drilling idea is "something that can be discussed," Salazar said, because of recent advancements in technology.

But Salazar said protecting ANWR's ecology and wildlife is "not something we're going to change our position on" when considering future oil and gas production. "There are special places to be protected and ANWR is one of those," Salazar said when asked about Murkowski's proposal.

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