Republican victories in the midterm elections could mean it’s open season on Alaska’s energy reserves.

President Bush targeted the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska for oil and gas development in his 2001 national energy plan. But legislation authorizing exploration and development in ANWR failed to pass the divided Congress. Now, the administration and the new Republican-controlled Congress will likely renew efforts to drill in the refuge, while environmentalists will keep pressure on anti-drilling legislators to block those efforts.

“It would be nice not to have to focus on (another ANWR) campaign,” says Charles Clusen of the Natural Resources Defense Council, “but what we need to do now is the same as before the election.”
Stopping drilling in the 23.5 million-acre National Petroleum Reserve will be tougher, because the administration doesn’t need approval from Congress.

In the late 1990s, with prompting from the oil industry, President Clinton opened 4.6 million acres of the reserve to exploratory drilling, but restricted development around expansive wetlands and other biologically rich areas. Now, as the BLM prepares a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) to assess the consequences of exploration in another 9 million acres, environmental groups fear the agency will give the oil industry nearly unrestricted drilling rights on the largest single unit of public land in the U.S.

The BLM will complete the draft EIS for the reserve and accept public comments in early 2003. For more information, visit aurora.ak.blm.gov/npra.