By Ben Geman - 02/24/11 08:56 PM EST
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on Thursday called boosting Alaskan oil production her top priority and claimed that Middle Eastern turmoil and rising prices put drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) “back on the table.”
Oil production is central to Alaska's economy. Murkowski used a speech to Alaska’s legislature to warn that the massive Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) will shut down if production declines continue and the industry cannot access new fields in her state.
Murkowski is the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the panel of the Appropriations Committee that controls Interior Department spending.
She vowed to use her perches to press for oil company access to the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and for industry access to federal waters off Alaska’s northern coast, where Shell Oil is fighting for Interior Department permission to begin drilling.
“When I get back to work in the Senate, I will call more forcefully than ever before, using every option available, for this administration to work with us to preserve TAPS. That will probably require me to throw some elbows and ruffle a few feathers. I’m good with that,” she said in Juneau.
Murkowski also vowed to continue pursuing legislation to allow oil production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Approval faces massive hurdles in the Senate and passage is considered highly unlikely in this Congress, but Murkowski said that unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, combined with oil prices at two-year highs, has changed the equation.
“An acute awareness of these vulnerabilities has put ANWR back on the table,” Murkowski said.
“I believe the House of Representatives will lead the way by passing legislation to open ANWR this spring. Then it will be the Senate’s turn to act, and I will do everything in my power to convince my colleagues that this is the right decision for both Alaska and America,” she said.