(CNSNews.com) - Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) readied himself Monday for what he expects will be a "titanic battle" over the much anticipated National Energy Security Act of 2001, a bill that calls for oil drilling in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
ANWR drilling is the major sticking point in the bill for environmentalists, who worry that the project would endanger the native herd of Porcupine caribou. But, according to geological estimates, the 1.5 acre-coastal plain could hold up to 16 billion barrels of oil, allowing the U.S. to reduce its dependence on foreign oil.
Murkowski, who chairs the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, told reporters there is an energy crisis in America, which is apparent from rolling brown outs in California and rising gasoline and energy prices across the nation. He said the energy situation in the U.S. is even worse because most of the oil used is imported.
"Each day, more than 8 million barrels of crude oil must come in from foreign shores. That is a dangerous strategy by anyone's measure," Murkowski said. "This bill spells out a national energy strategy with a critical goal - to finally reduce to 50 percent of the amount of oil we import."
According to Murkowski, foreign dependency on oil poses a danger to national security, since much of the imported oil comes from the often-unstable Middle East, and even anti-American countries such as Iraq.
"Remember back in 1991, when we were in the Gulf War. It goes to show we have been in a war over oil before," Murkowski said. "Now we get 750,000 barrels of oil a day from Iraq ... they are selling oil to us and with that money, they are building nuclear and biological weaponry with us in mind. It is a potentially dangerous situation."
Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) said the bill would also give a boost to the weak economy.
"Our legislation provides incentives to increase oil and gas production, which, in turn, will help create jobs and lower energy costs," he said.
Larry Craig (R-Idaho) warned that the energy crisis could get worse, that the rolling brown outs Californians have endured might spread north, to Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
"Farmers in Idaho are currently having to make the decision whether or not to use fertilizer this season because of the prospect of brown outs like those in California," Craig said. "This is a problem that should have been dealt with last year, but we have waited until now."
Murkowski made clear the bill not only looks to reduce foreign dependence on oil through more productivity, but also "seeks to increase the use of alternative sources, the efficient use of our energy, and our own domestic energy supply."
The legislation includes a wide-ranging list of initiatives to encourage fuel conservation, such as tax breaks for energy efficient appliances and vehicles, and reserving H.O.V. lanes on major highways for fuel-efficient cars only. It also calls for developing technology that will allow the U.S. to use natural resources in a manner that is safer for the environment.
As for the Porcupine caribou herd, Murkowski acknowledged the danger, but said there's proof that oil exploration and wildlife can coexist. He mentioned Prudhoe Bay, also on the northern coast of Alaska, where the caribou herd has tripled in size since exploration began there in the mid 1970s.
"With the technology available to us today, we can increase production while we protect the ecology and environment," said Murkowski. "Sure [drilling in the area] is a threat, but it is a manageable threat."
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is threatening to filibuster the initiative and several moderate Republicans have said they would not support exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.