Murkowski, Young to pursue Arctic refuge drilling

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski hopes to advance a proposal to allow for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, seeing an opportunity with Republicans controlling Congress and Republican Donald Trump set to become president.

Murkowski told reporters at her campaign party late Tuesday that she will continue chairing the Senate energy committee and will work early on to push for allowing drilling in the refuge, sometimes referred to as ANWR.

U.S. Rep. Don Young said he also plans to pursue legislation to open the refuge to drilling when the new Congress convenes in January.

Murkowski and Young each won re-election Tuesday.

Murkowski said she sees opportunities to advance energy policy in Alaska. While Trump doesn't have a legislative record, comments he has made about using resources to create jobs and increase national security have been encouraging, she said.

She said Republicans will need to work with Democrats on issues like ANWR to gain agreement. But having a Republican-controlled Congress and Republican in the White House "does clear a path for us, which I think is exciting."

Young, the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. House, has said he has gotten an ANWR drilling bill passed out of the House 12 times. The Senate has failed to pass the bill 11 of those times. The one time it did, in 1995, President Bill Clinton vetoed the bill.

Opening ANWR's coastal plain for drilling has long been a popular issue with Alaska political leaders in both parties.

Elisabeth Balster Dabney, executive director of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, predicted any efforts to allow for drilling on ANWR's coastal plain would be a major fight.

The refuge is an intact ecosystem and "unlike any other place on earth," she said. There is speculation over how much available oil and gas there is on the coastal plain, she said.

The state, in 2013, proposed a seismic to get a better sense for the area's true oil and gas potential. The federal government rejected the proposal, and Dabney said her group opposed it because it would have disrupted the landscape and wildlife.

Dabney said President Barack Obama could, by executive order, establish the area as a national monument. But she said a new administration could undo that.

Sarah Erkmann, with the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, said Democrat Hillary Clinton made comments during her campaign that she considered exploring oil and gas in the Arctic too risky. But Erkmann said Trump was not clear on his energy policy as it related to Alaska.

"The opportunities are certainly better today than they were yesterday, but there's still a lot of questions that will have to be answered before anybody feels like they have confidence in exactly what the situation might be," she said.

Before the end of the year, President Barack Obama's administration is expected to announce the next federal five-year offshore oil leasing plan covering 2017-2022. The preliminary plan proposes a Beaufort Sea lease sale in 2020 and a Chukchi Sea lease sale. Pro- and anti-drilling groups have been lobbying to retain or delete the sales in Arctic Ocean waters.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in October 2015 cancelled Beaufort and Chukchi lease sales in the current five-year plan, citing market conditions and low industry interest.