Fisheries Conservation photo

While the world’s attention is still focused on the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the debate over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is heating up.

From the AP story:

_The fight over oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge heated up Tuesday over the possibility that a new management plan could put the refuge and its billions of barrels of crude off-limits for good. At issue is the refuge’s 1.5-million-acre coastal plain and whether an updated plan would designate the oil-rich area as wilderness. The coastal plain ˜ believed to contain an estimated 11 billion barrels of recoverable oil ˜ has been a battleground for decades between environmentalists who don’t want drilling and oil companies and Alaska officials that see a large, untapped resource that could ease the country’s dependence on foreign oil. Production at Prudhoe Bay, North America’s largest oil field, is declining by about 10 percent a year. The refuge’s coastal plain, and its large pool of oil just to the east, is enticingly close. It’s also onshore.

In the update of the 22-year-old refuge management plan, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman has said the federal agency might recommend the coastal plain be designated as wilderness. If that should happen, it would be off-limits to oil companies, perhaps permanently. The agency expects the plan to be finalized by 2012. Alaska U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich are pressing the agency to remove the wilderness issue from the refuge plan debate, saying in a letter that the agency’s “limited financial resources ˜ and taxpayer dollars ˜ should not be wasted on such an unproductive exercise.” The senators would rather the federal agency focus its review on managing increased visitors to the 19.6-million-acre refuge in northeast Alaska and changing habitat conditions. They also want the agency to take a harder look at exploration and to consider the benefits of modern technology and directional drilling, which has less of an aboveground impact.
Your thoughts? Has the Gulf spill changed any minds about drilling in the arctic?