Alaska Oil Drilling Proposal

By Cynthia Kirk

This is the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

Republicans in the United States Congress have proposed a bill that would permit oil drilling in a protected wildlife area in northeastern Alaska. They say the bill would increase energy production in the United States and reduce America's dependence on imported oil. President Bush strongly supports the bill.

But Democrats, some Republicans and environmental groups strongly oppose the legislation. They say it would harm native Alaskan people and wildlife in the area.

Congress established the huge Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Nineteen-Eighty. The plan would permit drilling on six-hundred-thousand hectares in coastal areas of the Arctic refuge. The whole refuge covers about seven-million hectares of land. Drilling is already banned in the rest of the area.

Two Republican senators presented the new legislation last month. The bill is part of a proposed energy plan that aims to cut the nation's use of foreign oil to fifty-percent. Currently, the United States imports more than fifty-five percent of its oil. The bill also seeks to increase production of natural gas, coal and nuclear energy sources.

Oil companies have sought to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for years. But environmental groups have long fought to keep them out. They say thousands of polar bears, musk oxen, birds and other animals live in the area targeted for drilling. A kind of deer called caribou give birth to their young in the area. The refuge is also important to the native American Gwich'in people. They depend on the caribou for food and clothing.

Supporters of drilling say new technology permits companies to develop oil fields without harming wildlife. They say increasing oil and gas production in the United States will help create jobs and lower energy costs.

But opponents say there is not enough oil under the refuge to solve the country's current fuel problems. They call for better use of American energy supplies and development of renewable energy sources. Democrats and some Republicans have presented legislation to permanently ban any oil or gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. One Democratic leader says this is the most important environmental issue of this Congress.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk.

Voice of America Special English