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Arctic Drilling
Wilson Amendment
04/10/2003
House Roll Call No. 134
108th Congress, 1st Session

Agreed to: 226-202 (see complete tally)
The protection of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is among the highest priorities for the national environmental community. Nowhere else on our continent is the complete range of arctic and sub-arctic landscapes protected in one unbroken chain: from America’s northernmost forest, to the highest peaks and glaciers of the Brooks Range, to the rolling tundra, lagoons and barrier islands of the coastal plain. And no other conservation area in the circumpolar north has such abundant and diverse wildlife, including rare musk oxen, polar bears, grizzlies, wolves and millions of migratory birds. The refuge is also the annual gathering point for more than 120,000 caribou—animals that are central to the culture and sustenance of the Gwich’in Athabaskan people of northeast Alaska and northwest Canada.

The 1.5 million acre coastal plain of the refuge is often referred to as the “biological heart” of the refuge. And because 95 percent of Alaska’s North Slope is already available to oil exploration or development, the coastal plain is also the last protected stretch of Alaska’s Arctic coast.

The multinational oil corporations that covet the coastal plain argue that developing the refuge will help lower gasoline prices and reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil. However, a 1998 study by the U.S. Geological Survey projects that the coastal plain would yield less oil than the U.S. consumes in 6 months and would take at least 10 years to bring to market. Even then, economists argue, refuge oil would do little to lower energy costs for consumers or reduce U.S. dependence on imports. By contrast, modest improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency would save far more oil than the refuge would ever yield.

Nevertheless, the Bush administration made drilling in the Arctic refuge a cornerstone of its national energy strategy, and the House energy bill (H.R. 6) included a measure opening the Arctic refuge to oil and gas drilling. Among the most contentious issues in the House debate over this provision was the potential size of the drilling area. Development advocates maintained that the drilling operations would require no more than 2,000 acres in total—smaller than a typical airport. However, the U.S. Geological Survey has projected that commercially recoverable oil would be scattered in dozens of small pockets across the refuge. As a result, drilling activities would be spread out over hundreds of square miles, criss-crossing most of the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain. Moreover, even if drilling operations were technically confined to 2,000 acres, the effects of exploration and development would be much broader: seismic exploration would scar much of the area’s tundra; oil production would contaminate the air with nitrogen oxide and other pollutants; ice road construction would drain millions of gallons of fresh water from the coastal plain’s few lakes and streams; and mines would strip millions of cubic feet of gravel from riverbanks and coastal areas. A 2003 report from the National Research Council concluded that the effects ofoil drilling on animals and vegetation could extend well beyond the actual “footprint” of development.

During House consideration of the energy bill, Representative Heather Wilson (R-NM) sponsored an amendment that purported to limit development of the Arctic refuge to 2,000 acres, but would have allowed the 2,000 acres to be scattered across the coastal plain and would have excluded gravel mines, permanent roads, and even pipelines from the total tally. On April 4, 2003, the House approved the Wilson amendment by a 226-202 vote (House roll call vote 134). NO is the pro environmental vote.

Representatives Ed Markey (D-MA) and Nancy Johnson (R-CT) then offered an amendment to strike the drilling provision from the House energy bill and maintain the current prohibition on oil development in the Arctic refuge. On April 4, 2003, the House rejected the Markey-Johnson amendment by a 197-228 vote. (House roll call 135) YES is the pro-environment vote. The House later approved the energy bill. However, neither the Senate version of the bill nor the House-Senate conference report, later passed by the House but not yet passed by the Senate, include Arctic drilling language.


Vote Map: House Roll Call No. 134
Votes For : 226
Votes Against : 202
Not Voting : 6

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