ANWR Drilling Opponents May Win Debate

The debate over drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) looks like it might be winding down as it heads for a final vote Thursday, according to officials.

It appears that Democrats opposing an amendment to the Senate energy package that would allow for the ANWR drilling have the votes to close debate, as well as the minimum 51 votes to strike it from the final bill.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said at a press conference Wednesday he would follow through on a promise to filibuster any plan to drill in the refuge.

"This proposal is not about action," he said. "It’s about distortion. It’s about giving satisfaction to a small group that wants to further our reliance on oil, no matter the environmental, economic or political consequences."

The same could be said about environmental groups and NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) activists who exaggerate the danger to the ANWR to keep domestic oil drilling out of any U.S. state, said some senators Wednesday.

"Caribou aren’t endangered," said Democratic Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana, an oil-producing state. He referred to a common argument that oil drilling will devastate the ecosystem of the area.

During a recent debate, Breaux held up a photo of caribou grazing alongside an existing Alaskan pipeline. "Does this look like they’re not happy and content grazing near the pipeline and near a production facility?"

The current proposal calls for exploration on 2,000 of the 1.5 million acres making up the ANWR. It is supported by President Bush, and a similar proposal was already passed in the House.

Those who support drilling in ANWR say it could significantly reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil. But most independent experts who have done the mathematic calculations suggest that is not the case.

"Even at its best amount of oil, the Arctic Wildlife Refuge makes anything but a few tiny percentage points in the low, single digits of difference on a 56 percent dependency on foreign oil," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Republicans who support the ANWR proposal hadn’t given up; they were still casting about for votes to keep the debate on the table, according to Capitol Hill sources.

The U.S. has 3 percent of the world's oil reserves — but uses 25 percent of the world's oil production. But Kerry pointed out that there are other places to which the U.S. can turn in order to put a lot of oil in the pipeline.

Oil companies are holding 8,000 leases today for deep-water exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. They haven't drilled in the Gulf of Mexico because they have waited for the price of oil to go up.