Global Processing

Major oil companies wait on Alaska

March 9, 2005

Reuters reports that major oil producers are taking a wait-and-see attitude as a showdown looms in Washington this month over drilling in a protected area of Alaska. A presumably oil-rich but environmentally sensitive pocket of the 19 million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge remains off limits to oil companies, after more than two decades of debate. Environmentalists have fought hard to protect the refuge''s coastal plain, home to polar bears, caribou and musk oxen, while lobbying by oil companies has waned as the battle has turned largely political. But surging oil prices, hovering around $50 a barrel, coupled with falling U.S. domestic production and rising dependence on foreign oil has put renewed focus on the United States'' largest onshore, unexplored, potentially productive geological basin. ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and BP are the three major producers operating or invested in Alaska''s main oil producing area, the North Slope, which is adjacent to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or ANWR. Geologists estimate between 5.7 billion to 16 billion barrels of oil lie under the tundra and ice of ANWR but drilling is the only way to find out for sure. With this uncertainty, ChevronTexaco in 2000 withdrew funding from Arctic Power, the main lobbying group seeking to open the refuge, and BP followed suit in 2002.