Friday, May 23, 2008

Bill would allow oil drilling in Alaska

Bartlett changes direction, wants to open 2,000 acres of national wildlife refuge

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Long an opponent to drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett has cosponsored legislation that would allow for oil and natural gas production there.

‘‘I have resisted drilling in ANWR because I believe that these oil reserves are like money in the bank that is yielding huge interest rates,” Bartlett said in a statement. ‘‘I don’t think you ought to rush to the bank and pull it out and spend it.”

But now Bartlett supports a bill to use the federal share of the Arctic drilling to invest in alternative and renewable sources of energy.

‘‘Of course, it is impossible to drill without some environmental impact,” Bartlett said. ‘‘However, I have been to ANWR. I am convinced that the environmental impact will be minimal.”

Oil companies have sought the right to drill on the federal lands for decades.

U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, introduced the American Energy Independence and Price Reduction Act with Bartlett (R-Dist. 6).

The bill would open 2,000 acres of ANWR so that within five years, the region would produce 1 million barrels of oil per day. A Bartlett news release called the restrictions placed on development the ‘‘strictest ... ever to be applied to a development project.” It also would create a coastal impact aid fund.

The proceeds from the drilling would pay for an alternative energy trust fund that would pay for a range of new energy technology including biomass grants, cellulose fuels, clean coal power, solar and wind power, and geothermal.

Bartlett’s decision comes as AAA Mid-Atlantic projects a slight decrease in the number of Marylanders traveling during the Memorial Day holiday. The organization estimates that more than 713,500 Marylanders — about 11 percent of the state — will travel at least 50 miles from home over the weekend. Last year, the figure was 0.9 percent higher.

U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) of Pikesville criticized oil company executives Wednesday for making record profits at the expense of the nation’s economy.

‘‘I would not deny a profit-making company from making a reasonable profit, but we clearly are in the midst of a national crisis,” Cardin said in a statement. ‘‘I would like to see a greater urgency from our leaders in the energy sector, as Americans, to do what is right for our country and not just their bottom line.”

In Maryland, gas prices have jumped to an average of $3.79 for regular and $4.13 for premium. Cardin notes that since President George W. Bush, a former oil company executive, took office in 2001, gas prices have increased 150 percent.

The five major oil companies recorded profits of more than $103 billion last year.

Cardin cosponsored the Consumer-First Energy Act to ‘‘punish price gouging and eliminate unnecessary tax breaks for oil and gas companies,” he said.

Still, don’t look for relief at the pump. The International Energy Agency in Paris is predicting that future oil supplies will be far tighter than demand, which will drive up the price per barrel. Forecasters predict $200 per barrel next year.