Shhh! Don’t Tell Democrats About the ANWR Section of the Tax Bill!

by Jim Geraghty

Americans have debated oil drilling in the Alaskan Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for decades. Way back in 2001, our intrepid Jonah Goldberg traveled to the refuge and ran up perhaps the largest travel expense report in National Review history, concluding that the oil could be extracted and leave the overwhelming majority of ANWR untouched:

ANWR is 19.6 million acres, about the size of South Carolina. And it’s beautiful. Well, most of it is. But more about that in a moment. On the very northern cusp of ANWR is what is commonly called the coastal plain, a tract of flat tundra largely indistinguishable from other spots along the coast and throughout the region. This comprises about 8 percent of the refuge-but an even smaller fraction of its pretty scenery. Some of this area is already off-limits to oil exploration, permanently. Nonetheless, the U.S. Geological Survey–seconded by industry experts-believes there could be untold billions of barrels of oil in the swath still legally available. The oil industry says it would need to use only 2,000 acres-an area no bigger than Dulles Airport, outside D.C.-to get that oil.  

Despite numerous political fights, and occasional separate chamber votes to allow drilling (the same bill has never passed the House and Senate), drilling in ANWR remains prohibited. But that might change:

Legislation to allow drilling in ANWR is quietly hitching a ride on the tax code overhaul that Senate Republicans hope to complete by the end of the week, overshadowed by larger debates on whether the bill is a giveaway to rich people and corporations at the expense of the poor and working class…

The nonstop news cycle and preponderance of other concerns with the tax bill are making it difficult to focus on an issue that normally fires up Democratic voters.

Beyond the law, there’s one other major factor that could determine whether drilling proceeds in ANWR: oil prices. Some oil industry analysts argue that if oil remains around $50 per barrel, companies may conclude drilling in the refuge isn’t particularly cost-effective.

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