Trump’s budget renews debate on Arctic refuge oil drilling

By Dan Joling, The Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — President Donald Trump’s plan to help balance the federal budget features a new attempt to open the coastal plain of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to petroleum drilling.

The effort is the latest chapter in a long-running political fight between two camps: environmentalists, who revere the plain as a maternity ward for polar bears, caribou and migratory birds; and politicians, including those in Alaska’s congressional delegation, who have campaigned for four decades on the promise of jobs and prosperity through “opening ANWR.”

The refuge covers 2,300 square miles (5,957 square kilometers), an area the size of West Virginia and Connecticut combined in Alaska’s northeast corner.

Some things to know about the debate:


Alaska Natives have used it as subsistence hunting grounds for thousands of years. President Dwight Eisenhower in 1960 signed legislation creating the refuge.

Congress in 1980 expanded it and declared much of it wilderness, but threw in a wild card: Recognizing the oil production potential, Congress declared that the coastal plain, tundra stretching from the Beaufort Sea to the foothills of the Brooks Range, should be studied. Another act of Congress and presidential approval can open it to drilling.


The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the coastal plain holds 10.4 billion barrels of oil compared with 25 billion at the older Prudhoe Bay oil field to the west.

Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska calls the refuge’s coast plain North America’s greatest prospect for conventional oil production. The plain is 60 miles (97 kilometers) east of the trans-Alaska pipeline, which operates at one-quarter capacity as North Slope oil fields such as Prudhoe Bay have declined.