State pushes offer to help pay for exploratory drilling in ANWR

Anchorage Daily NewsMay 20, 2013 

WASHINGTON -- Alaska is trying to drum up publicity for its offer to pay some of the cost of exploratory drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but the pitch appears to have no real chance.

Gov. Sean Parnell appeared by video to make the proposal at a U.S. Chamber Commerce event on Monday in Washington.

"Alaska will step up to help complete the work the federal government seems unwilling to do," Parnell said.

Parnell said he would ask the Alaska Legislature to spend up to $50 million in state money if the federal government also agreed to fund the effort. Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan said the state's share would cover about a third of the cost of a seven year, three-dimensional seismic and exploratory drilling program.

The U.S. Interior Department had no comment. Senior White House energy adviser Heather Zichal recently reiterated that "ANWR is off the table," a position from which President Barack Obama has never wavered.

The timing of Parnell's proposal is puzzling with the nation already awash in shale oil, said Keith Chu, spokesman for Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

"We haven't seen this proposal. But it's pretty clear that attempts to drill in ANWR aren't going anywhere in the Senate," Chu said.

Wyden has repeatedly voted against the perennial proposals for ANWR drilling.

Sullivan said he thought the latest offer should get broad bipartisan support. Sullivan said the goal is to use up-to-date technology to figure out just how much oil lies beneath the ground.

The work would be done only in winter, he said, with ice roads and ice pads to minimize its impact.

"We think this exploration program can be conducted with very little to no impact on the tundra and the surrounding environment," said Sullivan, who appeared at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce event.

He said the state is making the proposal because the Interior Department is almost finished with an ANWR management plan that doesn't consider drilling.

The Alaska Wilderness League said the state of Alaska's pitch is silly. "Raising this dead-end proposal in the context of the (ANWR management plan) is completely irrelevant in considering the future management of this special place," said Arctic Refuge Campaign director Lydia Weiss.

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, released written statements Monday expressing support for Parnell's proposal. North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower said she thinks ANWR development is preferable to the "inherently more risky and speculative" Arctic offshore drilling that is supported by both Parnell and Obama.



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