ANCHORAGE -- Alaska Sen. Frank Murkowski said Friday he supports Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush's position on opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain to oil exploration.
''Governor Bush understands energy policy and what is needed to make this country less dependent on foreign oil,'' the Republican senator said in a statement. ''Oil development on a tiny sliver of Alaska's coastal plain will have no negative effect on Alaska's environment.''
The Texas governor, speaking at a factory in Saginaw, Mich., said Friday he supports opening 1.5 million acres of ANWR to drilling. ANWR should be opened up because of the United States' increasing dependence on foreign oil, Bush said. Estimates of the oil reserves under ANWR range as high as 10 billion barrels, but only one well has been drilled there, and results of that well have been kept secret.
Technological advances ''have dramatically decreased the environmental impact of oil and gas exploration,'' Bush said.
BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell said the new technology makes it possible to explore for oil without harming the environment.
''We will certainly have a physical presence on the land, but that presence can be managed in a way that the wildlife population that use those areas can continue to use those areas,'' he said. ''We can explore for oil without leaving a footprint on the land.''
''We think we have proven that we can responsibly develop projects in the Arctic,'' echoed Dawn Patience of Phillips Alaska Inc. ''The industry, as far as smaller footprint, has proven that over the past 30 years on the North Slope.
Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, speaking from the Audubon Society's preserve just outside Washington, said Bush wanted to let oil companies ''invade precious natural treasures'' in Alaska and elsewhere. He said, if elected, he would ''not let that happen.''
''We don't have to degrade our environment in order to secure our energy future,'' the vice president said.
Murkowski strongly criticized Gore's pledge to prevent any oil exploration from occurring on the coastal plain.
''At 2 million barrels a day, the coastal plain would be among the top eight oil producing nations in the world.'' he said on the Senate floor.
Sara Callaghanchapell, the Sierra Club's spokeswoman in Alaska, said it would be shortsighted and wrong to drill in ANWR.
''We can't drill our way to energy independence,'' she said. ''The Arctic refuge is an Alaska treasure that should not be sacrificed for a short term supply of oil.''
Instead, the government should be supporting programs to conserve oil and gas, she said. ''Fuel efficiency for cars and SUVs and light trucks is where we need to start today.''
No matter how carefully oil exploration is conducted, it leaves an impact on the environment with the building of hundreds of miles of roads, laying of pipeline and constructing drilling pads, she said.
''BP is comfortable being very cavalier with Alaska's environment. It is our opinion that BP is not the group that is out there looking out for the environment,'' Callaghanchapell said.
Murkowski said the environmental groups were lying to the American people about the impact of drilling in ANWR.
''Our energy policy today in this country is directed not by our energy needs, but by the direction of the environmental community. They accept no responsibility for the energy crisis we face today,'' he said.
Most political figures in Alaska, including Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles, have strongly supported the idea of drilling in ANWR.
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