Bush says ANWR can be explored and protected

Posted: Sunday, March 18, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush this week reiterated his interest in exploring for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Bush, during an interview with regional newspapers, said he recognized that some places ought to be off-limits to development for at least aesthetic reasons. Other, less-precious places can be used without damaging the environment, he said.

To him, ANWR's coastal plain falls in the latter category.

''There's a mentality that says you can't explore and protect land,'' Bush said. ''We're going to change that attitude. You can explore and protect land.''

Bush described his view of how that might occur on the coastal plain.

First, he said, ''I think it's about less than 10 percent of the total refuge up there.''

And modern development techniques reduce impacts, he said.

''I don't know if you know, but they flood roadways, flood drill sites. And so they do all their exploration activity on ice,'' he said. ''They get all the equipment out and when it comes time to melt, the only thing left is a wellhead. And the technology today is such that you're able to drill, slant-hole drill, in various directions from a single platform.''

''It's a much friendlier technology than when we first explored in Prudhoe Bay,'' Bush said.

The president spent the summer of 1974 working in Fairbanks for Alaska International Industries, an airline and construction business working on the trans-Alaska pipeline. The business later evolved into the now-defunct airline MarkAir.

Bush said he was pleased with recent media attention in the refuge.

''I felt like some of these recent TV shows that were showing what it was like to explore did our cause a good service,'' he said.

Bush's comments on ANWR came in response to a question from a Denver Post reporter, who asked, ''If you can't get ANWR through, will you turn to the American West to increase domestic production?''

''We need to go to both ANWR and the American West,'' Bush said. ''We need to go to where there are gas reserves.

''Obviously, there are some places where we're not going to put a drilling rig, some of the crown jewels of our environment,'' Bush said. ''But there are some lands that are, to me, suitable for exploration.''

Bush's comments drew praise from the chairman of the House Resources Committee, Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah.

''Gasoline prices are projected to hit $2.50 a gallon this summer,'' he said. ''Conservation and windmills alone aren't going to solve this problem.''

The Alaska Wilderness League, a coalition of groups backing wilderness protection for the refuge, issued a list of ''corrections'' to Bush's statements.

''Even with the best technology, drilling the refuge would require hundreds of miles of pipelines, roads, airports and other facilities,'' the group said.

And the area certainly qualifies as a ''crown jewel,'' the group said.

''The Arctic refuge is unique to the North Slope of Alaska and to the world. It is the only place in the nation where the full spectrum of Arctic and sub-arctic ecosystems are protected in an unbroken continuum,'' the group said.

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