After having been relatively quiet in recent years, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is once again front page news - and battle lines are being drawn. A large number of Republicans in Congress are facing off against environmentalists and most of the Democrats in the House of Representatives. The U.S. Senate will likely vote the opposite way. The PIONEERS Act was introduced. It includes provisions for using revenues from new oil and gas drilling projects both offshore and in the ANWR Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to pay for what Congress will spend money on in the next five years. The bill also includes approval for the Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada. Not all the Republicans voted yes and not all the Democrats voted no. The final version passed by a vote of 237 to 187. An even number of Democrats and Republicans went the other way -- 21 each. As Rep. Don Young (R-AK) said in a statement, this is the twelfth time he has voted to open ANWR. The act is supported by the American Petroleum Institute, the American Public Gas Association, the Association of Oil Pipe Lines, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission, the Natural Gas Supply Association, and a lot of major oil companies. One website -- MapLight.org -- has a motto of “revealing money’s influence on politics.” In an article posted on the website on Feb. 20, it was noted that U.S. representatives have received almost $12 million from oil and gas interest groups. Republicans received 86% of the total. As the article noted, House Speaker John Boehner is the number one recipient of contributions from major (international) oil and gas companies and is among the top 10 recipients of contributions from the entire oil and gas industry to U.S. representatives. The battle over opening up new areas for exploration, drilling in the Arctic and the Keystone XL Pipeline will likely get even nastier as it goes along. Shell Oil has been on the front lines in its efforts to begin drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. The company recently received approval from the Department of Energy for its spill response plan. It is one of the final hurdles the company needs to clear to begin drilling. But, environmentalists and Alaskan Natives still are adamantly opposed to drilling in the Arctic Ocean. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a prepared statement, "In the Arctic frontier, cautious exploration -- under the strongest oversight, safety requirements, and emergency response plans ever established -- can help us expand our understanding of the area and its resources, and support our goal of continuing to increase safe and responsible domestic oil and gas production." Especially following the Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the opponents don’t believe what the DOI secretary says. Oceana is one environmental organization that doesn’t like the DOI decision. “We all deserve clean air and clean water,” said Michael LeVine, Pacific senior counsel for Oceana. “Shell, like anyone else, must comply with the law, and it is the government’s responsibility to enforce the laws that protect our air, water and ocean resources. Neither Shell nor MMS has lived up to its legal obligations in this case, and it is our responsibility to take action to make sure that our air and water are protected. “Oceana, local communities, and many others have tried to work with the Obama administration to bring science back to decisions about the Arctic Ocean,” said LeVine. “Unfortunately, Shell and MMS are focused only on oil and gas, and we have been forced to go to court to have a broader conversation about clean air and water in the Arctic.” The oil industry continues to face some very tough battles -- moving safely into frontier areas, legal challenges and winning in the court of public opinion. Finding the best and cleanest energy will take all the resources the energy industry can bring to bear. Contact the author, Scott Weeden, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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