ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could produce nearly 2 million barrels of oil a day at its peak, provided that the area were opened to exploration and development, according to new numbers from the U.S. Energy Department.
The energy department assessment updated a 1998 study of ANWR oil prospects by the U.S. Geological Survey. The update was sought by Alaska Sen. Frank Murkowski.
The environmentally sensitive and politically controversial coastal plain of ANWR is now closed to drilling. The Clinton administration and presidential candidate Al Gore oppose opening ANWR to oil development.
The original study estimated that ANWR's coastal plain contained between 5.7 billion and 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil, with the expected amount pegged at about 10 billion barrels.
By comparison, Prudhoe Bay holds an estimated 13 billion barrels of recoverable crude.
This month's report from the Energy Information Administration projected the peak daily output at between 650,000 and 1.9 million barrels, depending on the size of the resource.
In the expected case of 10 billion barrels, peak daily flow ranged from 1 million to 1.3 million barrels. That's about as much oil as the North Slope now produces.
As oil prices soared late last winter, Murkowski asked for the study, saying that opening ANWR would ease U.S. dependence on oil from foreign sources.
The study's authors cautioned the numbers are preliminary and subject to change.
If the study is correct, ANWR could replace much of the dwindling oil output from Prudhoe Bay and other North Slope fields. The development would also likely add thousands of jobs in Alaska and millions of dollars to state coffers.
At the earliest, ANWR fields would be producing by 2010. By then, world crude consumption will have reached 100 million barrels a day, according to the Energy Department. ANWR would supply about 1 percent of global production.
The United States relies on oil imports to supply 70 percent of its daily demand of 19 million barrels. Assuming all ANWR oil went to the domestic market, production would cut current imports by about 8 percent, according to the study.
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