The House on Thursday night endorsed opening part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, setting up a likely confrontation with the Senate as Congress works to complete a comprehensive energy bill.

Opening a 2,000-acre slice of the 1.5 million acre Alaskan refuge is a high-profile feature of the Bush administration’s energy policy that aims to bolster domestic energy supplies as a means of reducing the nation’s addiction to foreign oil.

“ANWR oil is obviously a critical component of any viable energy policy and it is exemplary that the House realizes this,” said Roger Herrera, a consultant for the pro-drilling group Arctic Power.

“It is appropriate that this decision is reached at a time when our armed forces are freeing Iraq and making us more secure,” he said. “American oil in American jet fighters makes eminent sense.”

ANWR survived in the House as an amendment to remove it from the overall energy bill failed on a 228-197 vote Thursday night. A final vote on the bill was expected to come Friday.

It is not clear how much recoverable oil is beneath the area that is slated for drilling. The U.S. Energy Information Administration has estimated that the area could yield anywhere from roughly 1.6 million to 2.6 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2020. Current crude imports run just under 10 million bpd, the agency said.

To environmentalists, such volumes are not sufficient enough to justify invading a refuge that is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including primeval herds of migrating caribou.

“It makes no sense to destroy one of our last, pristine wild places for what the U.S. Geological Survey says would be less than six months’ worth of oil that even the oil industry admits wouldn’t reach consumers for 10 years,” said Jim Waltman of the Wilderness Society.

“Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will do almost nothing to address our reliance on imported oil,” Waltman said. “We simply can’t drill our way to energy independence.”

Supporters of drilling argue that there is no technology or fuel on the immediate horizon that will replace the massive amounts of oil the nation burns every day.

They also contend that advances in drilling technology make it possible to explore ANWR and produce oil and natural gas in a manner that leaves nothing in the way of a “footprint” on the environment in terms of roads and other construction.

Jerry Hood, chairman of Arctic Power and principal officer of Teamsters Local 959 in Anchorage, Alaska, said, “We will continue to fight to open ANWR and benefit from the excellent jobs it development will create.”

Environmentalists and Democratic supporters have taken the administration to task for focusing on increased oil production rather than improving fuel efficiency technology and developing alternative energy sources that would reduce oil consumption.

“We would have rather won this vote, but the big picture is that the House leadership is driving the energy bill full throttle down a dead end street,” said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. “Arctic drilling is dead on arrival in the Senate.”

Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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