Salazar directional-drilling comments add fuel to fires of ANWR debate

Even the hint of a suggestion that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar could be considering caving in on oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge of Alaska has ruffled the feathers of environmentalists – and a few Arctic terns – who thought the place was bulletproof under the Obama administration.

In a conference call with reporters Monday, the former Colorado senator said he would consider allowing directional drilling under ANWR from oil rigs several miles away on state land or out at sea, but he also added that most signs point to even that method’s having unacceptable ecological impacts on the critical energy battleground.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Monday introduced a bill that represents the latest bid to tap the rich reserves beneath the refuge. Supporters say it’s a good compromise with environmentalists because it won’t leave a physical footprint on the reserve.

But opponents say directional drilling, an idea that has been floated before, leaves ANWR vulnerable to oil spills and other impacts from drilling infrastructure on the fringes of the refuge.

Drilling in the ANWR has been hotly debated for years, and it surfaced as a presidential campaign issue that divided even GOP running mates Sen. John McCain (opposed) and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (in favor).


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