The GOP-led tax reform bill that passed in the House on Nov. 16 could open up oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) if a Senate provision makes it to the final version of the bill.
Alaskan GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski has spent the past year appealing to Republican leaders of Congress to expand oil drilling in her state. Drilling is currently restricted off the coast of ANWR, which to some is the last area of pristine Alaskan wilderness, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Murkowski passed the bill in the Senate Committee on Energy and National Resources, for which she is the chair, earlier in November. The Alaskan senator is considered a swing voter on tax reform and was one of the GOP members who voted "no" on health care reform in September.
On Nov. 28, the Budget Committee approved the provision as part of the larger GOP tax plan. The billion-dollar revenue from oil drilling would help offset tax cuts.
The bill will likely reach the Senate floor in early December. Even if it passes, negotiations would have to be made with the House since the drilling provision was not included in their tax proposal.
Fossil fuel industry leaders in Alaska were extremely pleased with the prospect of expanding drilling in the refuge, which has been banned for close to 40 years. The state's oil-dependent economy was hit hard when oil prices dropped in 2014 -- according to NPR, it is still in a recession.
"Oil and gas -- that's what our state thrives on," said Clint Wizenburg, who ran a booth for a local hardware store at the annual resource development conference in Anchorage. "I mean, that's what made us who we are. So I see good things."
But not everyone in Alaska is satisfied with their senator's development plan. Environmental lawyer Valerie Brown from Trustees for Alaska told NPR that the fight to protect the state's natural lands just became more difficult.
In addition to ecological welfare, opponents of the bill cited the uncertainty of oil prices as a reason to keep drilling out of the ANWR.
At least one oil company would be interested to look for places to drill in the refuge. Eni US, a subunit of Italy's ENI, just received the first permit to drill in federal waters of off Alaska's coast since 2015, Reuters reports. The Trump administration approved the permit on Nov. 28.
The company's leases had been set to expire at the end of 2017. Their decision to keep drilling in the Arctic is controversial, particularly since Royal Dutch Shell Plc quit its Arctic exploration after sustaining a gash in their ship. Environmentalists also found existing laws that restricted their ability to drill.
ENI has not specified when they will begin drilling. According to Reuters, they want to drill into the Beaufort Sea from an artificial island using wells that are more than six miles long.