ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling likely would reduce America's dependence on foreign oil in 2020 from 62 percent to 60 percent, according to a Department of Energy report.
The department's Energy Information Administration produced the report at the request of Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, who long has argued that drilling in ANWR would make the nation less indebted to countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
The U.S. Senate is in the midst of debate on the energy bill, which includes Murkowski's proposal to open the coastal plain of the refuge to development.
The EIA analysis, using mean estimates of the available resources, said opening ANWR is expected to add 800,000 barrels per day to U.S. crude oil production in 2020, nine years after production would begin if the Congress approves a competitive oil and gas leasing program this year.
A high-case scenario projected by the report said ANWR production would add as much as 1.5 million barrels per day and reduce import dependence to 57 percent.
In a low-case scenario, ANWR would add 590,000 barrels per day by 2015, before production declined to 510,000 barrels per day in 2020.
The report stresses that because the coastal plain of ANWR has had little exploration activity, there is considerable uncertainty in the size of the oil resources that might be recovered.
U.S. Geological Survey reports suggest that between 5.7 billion and 16 billion barrels of oil could be extracted with today's technology.
Environmentalists said the mean estimates prove that Murkowski is wrong in claiming that opening ANWR will have a major impact on America's dependence on foreign suppliers.
The difference between 62 and 60 percent 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.
Brian Malnak, Republican staff director of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, disputed the interpretation by The Wilderness Society.
The report notes a range of 1 to 5 percent points in foreign dependence, he said.
''Every barrel we produce is a barrel we don't have to buy from Iran,'' he said, and would be produced by U.S. workers.
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 mean 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.
Malnak said The Wilderness Society ignores that the mean case shows ANWR increasing U.S. production by 14 percent. The report indicates total U.S. production in 2020 would be 5.6 million barrels per day and ANWR would add 510,000 to 1.5 million barrels.
The bottom line, said Malnak, is that ANWR is the best possible domestic prospect.
''There is nothing else on the table that's anywhere near that,'' Malnak said.
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