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ENVIRONMENT REPORT - April 26, 2002: Arctic Refuge Drilling - 2002-04-25

This is the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

The Democratic-controlled United States Senate has voted to block exploration for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the state of Alaska. Last week, the Senate rejected an attempt to bring to a vote an amendment allowing drilling holes in the ground to search for oil in the protected area.

This was a serious defeat for President Bush. Drilling for oil in the wildlife refuge in Alaska was an important part of his energy program.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge covers almost eight-million hectares of land. Republican members of the Senate wanted legislation to permit oil exploration in part of the refuge. Scientists believe eighty percent of the oil is in that area.

Supporters of the plan said it would have reduced oil imports. The United States imports about sixty percent of its oil. Supporters of the plan also said any risks to wildlife in the area could be reduced by restricting and closely supervising the drilling.

Environmental groups and many Democrats in Congress opposed drilling in the area. They said it would destroy the area and harm wildlife such as caribou, musk oxen and some kinds of birds. They also said that the United States could reach the same goal of reducing oil imports by producing vehicles that use less fuel.

Congress currently has a ban on oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. However, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed an energy bill last year that would permit drilling.

A recent American government study suggested that oil exploration in part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would not harm animals. Administration officials had ordered the latest study after a twelve-year government study found that oil exploration could harm caribou and other wildlife in the refuge. The United States Geological Survey carried out both studies. The latest study examined drilling possibilities in limited areas of the coastal plain.

Experts do not know how much oil is underground in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Estimates are between three-thousand-million and sixteen-thousand-million barrels.

However, a recent Energy Department report suggested that oil from the refuge would have resulted in only a small reduction in American oil imports.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk.