ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Sen. Ted Stevens said he won't push to give oil drilling rights to Native corporations that own land within the borders of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Stevens, R-Alaska, had promised last week to amend a Senate energy bill to allow drilling on land owned by Alaska Native corporations. His announcement followed Senate moves to block an amendment that would have allowed oil exploration in the coastal plain of the refuge.
Stevens said Tuesday he changed his mind at the request of Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and Kaktovik Inupiat Corp.
''I think we should honor their decision,'' he said.
The Alaska Native corporation Arctic Slope Regional Corp. owns the mineral rights to 92,000 acres in the refuge while Kaktovik Inupiat Corp. owns the surface rights.
When Arctic Slope acquired the mineral rights in a land swap in 1983 it agreed not to develop any oil in the area unless Congress approved drilling in the surrounding coastal plain.
Arctic Slope Regional's land director, Richard Glenn, said last week that the corporation would much prefer to have the refuge's entire 1.5-million-acre coastal plain leased for oil drilling rather than only the acreage owned by the Native corporations.
A broad exploration program makes far more sense because oil pools don't follow the property boundaries, he said.
Stevens said his hopes for ANWR development are now pinned on a House-Senate conference committee. That's where the Senate energy bill will be merged with the House version, which already includes ANWR drilling.
''There's going to be a lot of horse-trading going on in that conference,'' Stevens said.
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