The issue of oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is extremely complicated. Most of the controversy centers around 1.5 million acres in the coastal plain which is known as the “1002 area” after a section of the 1980 law that created the ANWR, which provided that the question of potential oil drilling in this area would be deferred to a later time. Since 1980 the federal government has gone back and forth several times about whether to allow drilling in the 1002 area or not. Right now, “not” is winning, as President Barack Obama and the Democratic-majority Congress generally oppose drilling in the ANWR, notwithstanding former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s 2008 campaign slogan of “Drill, baby, drill!”
Specifically in answer to your question, drilling can be allowed near the ANWR because whatever isn’t federally protected land (whether under environmental protection or as a Native American reservation) is privately owned, and oil companies can drill there so long as they negotiate the terms of their operations with the landowners. It is not as if there is a protected zone around the perimeter of the ANWR where oil drilling is prohibited; either the land is in the ANWR or it isn’t. So now the question is, what do we do about the 1002 area, and are the economic benefits of drilling there worth the potential environmental effects to wildlife, especially caribou? That controversy has been going on since at least 1980, and I don’t think it’s going away any time soon.
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