ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling would reduce America's dependence on foreign oil by just two percent in the next two decades, according to a new report.
The U.S. Department of Energy produced the report at the request of Sen. Frank Murkowski, who long has argued that drilling in ANWR would make the nation less indebted to countries like Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Environmentalists said the report proves Murkowski wrong.
The report predicts that by 2020, if ANWR is not drilled, 62 percent of the oil consumed in the United States will be imported. Dependence would drop to 60 percent if ANWR is tapped.
The difference is insignificant, said Pete Rafle, a spokesman for The Wilderness Society.
''We think it really puts a fine point on the argument that we've been making all along, that Senator Murkowski's claims about the impact of Arctic refuge oil have been wildly inflated,'' Rafle told the Anchorage Daily News.
The U.S. Senate is in the midst of debate on the energy bill, which includes Murkowski's proposal to open the refuge. Although Murkowski and the Bush administration say developing ANWR will boost the economy and create jobs, this report is one of several that say the impact of oil from the refuge would not be great on a world scale.
A Murkowski aide said the important point is that the report predicts a decrease in dependence in foreign sources if ANWR is developed.
Taking the maximum estimate for the amount of oil in the refuge, dependence on foreign oil would drop to 57 percent, said energy aide Dan Kish, citing the same report.
Rafle said the high estimate is extremely unlikely -- a 1-in-20 possibility, according to previous government estimates on which the recent energy report relies.
Even the median estimate of ANWR oil, the one that would reduce imports to 60 percent from 62 percent, doesn't tell the whole story, Rafle said. It assumes that every barrel of technically recoverable oil would be produced, Rafle said, regardless of cost. If only the barrels that could be produced economically are considered, the impact of ANWR oil would hardly register, he said.
''We think it's remarkable that the study, even with it using numbers we think are much larger than the likely yield of the refuge, still shows that it barely makes a dent in our dependence on foreign oil,'' Rafle said.
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