Salazar wary of refuge oil plan

Associated Press

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 could be shown that the refuge’s wildlife and environment would remain undisturbed.

But Salazar emphasized that the Obama administration considers the Alaska refuge, known as ANWR, “a very special place” that must be protected and that he is not 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 platforms outside the refuge itself. Murkowski contends such drilling would leave the refuge surface undisturbed.

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

But Salazar said protecting the refuge’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.”


Congress has repeatedly rejected opening the refuge to oil companies, arguing that drilling would harm an ecologically sensitive area that is home to millions of migratory birds, polar bears, caribou and other wildlife.

The Bush administration contended that the estimated 11 billion barrels of oil beneath the refuge’s surface is needed and that drilling could be done in a way that protects the environment.

Salazar said he will meet Thursday with major oil company executives to reassure them that the Obama administration views oil as important to the country’s energy future.

“My message to the oil companies will be simple. They are and will remain an important part of our energy future,” Salazar said.

But Salazar defended proposals to end a manufacturers’ tax break for the largest oil companies as well as higher royalties and new fees on oil pumped from federal waters.

Salazar said the taxpayer -- like a private landowner -- should get the maximum return from the oil and natural gas pumped from federal land and waters.

As for some of the tax breaks, he said, “they are being taken away . . . for a very simple reason -- because they are not needed.”