Following in her father's footsteps, US Sen. Lisa Murkowski is sponsoring legislation to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, the AP reports. With a Republican Congress and president, she's hopeful that the timing is right. The coastal plain is a nursery for polar bears, muskoxen, and the vast Porcupine Caribou Herd. Migratory birds from all 50 states nest there. Few people visit, but the coastal plain is part of a refuge that's the very definition of wilderness: no roads, no campgrounds, not even any established trails. Environmental groups are planning strategies to keep drill rigs out. "There are some places that are just too sacred to drill," said Alli Harvey, a Sierra Club campaigner in Anchorage.
The bill sponsored by Murkowski would limit infrastructure like drilling pads, roads, and pipelines to 2,000 acres. Drilling advocates say restrictions already in place will protect caribou. No infrastructure would be allowed in areas crucial to caribou survival, such as the ice fields and uplands where caribou retreat to escape blood-sucking insects. But environmentalists say the 2,000-acre figure is misleading. It's akin to assessing the amount of space in a room affected by a table by measuring only the area where the legs touch the floor, said Kristen Miller, conservation director for the Alaska Wilderness League. Gravel mining, seismic testing and air pollution will take a toll, she said. Oil is spread across the entire coastal plain, she said, and infrastructure will be too. (Read more Arctic National Wildlife Refuge stories.)