FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Oil work on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is the ''Achilles heel'' in the arguments for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a Massachusetts congressman said.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., cited a 1999 document from the Kenai refuge manager that determined oil and gas work were incompatible with expanded oil development.
That finding was made after oil companies applied to conduct seismic exploration off their leases within the refuge, said Robin West, refuge manager. The decision did not affect the work on those leases, but would effectively bar expansion onto unleased refuge lands, he said.
Markey announced the Kenai refuge stance in response to a statement by a pro-ANWR-drilling lobbyist that the Kenai refuge is a ''very clear example'' of how wildlife can co-exist with oil. Roger Herrera of Arctic Power made the comment when asked about a recent government report on oil development in refuges that was created at Markey's request.
The report failed to list the Kenai as one of several refuges where federally owned oil and gas is produced. That omission, Herrera said, conveniently played into Markey's argument that very little oil and gas work is done on refuges around the nation and thus such work provides no justification for drilling in the Arctic refuge.
Markey said in a news release last week that, contrary to Herrera's claims, the Kenai refuge found oil and gas work to be ''not compatible.''
''Every fallacy in the industry's argument can be found bubbling on the surface of that refuge,'' Markey said.
In making the determination, Markey said, the refuge found that oil work on federal leases had: eliminated almost 1,000 acres of wildlife habitat, caused 24 fires, led to numerous oil and chemical spills and created 874 miles of bulldozed seismic trails that encouraged illegal use by all-terrain vehicles.
Herrera said Tuesday that Markey's argument fails to recognize modern oil field practices.
Most of the contamination discussed in the report occurred in the 1950s and '60s when the industry was admittedly less sensitive, Herrera said.
''Care and attention to the environment was not in anyone's consciousness,'' he told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''If, in today's terms, it damaged the environment, well that was just part of being here.''
Today, all activities on the refuge are permitted and monitored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he noted.
The report cited by Markey also does not offer any documentation of harm to wildlife populations in the refuge, Herrera said.
''The reason is that no evidence exists despite the fact that this area has been intimately researched for four decades,'' he said.
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