"ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The fight over oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge heated up Tuesday over the possibility that a new management plan could put the refuge and its billions of barrels of crude off-limits for good.
At issue is the refuge's 1.5-million-acre coastal plain and whether an updated plan would designate the oil-rich area as wilderness.
The coastal plain — believed to contain an estimated 11 billion barrels of recoverable oil — has been a battleground for decades between environmentalists who don't want drilling and oil companies and Alaska officials that see a large, untapped resource that could ease the country's dependence on foreign oil.
Production at Prudhoe Bay, North America's largest oil field, is declining by about 10 percent a year. The refuge's coastal plain, and its large pool of oil just to the east, is enticingly close. It's also onshore.
In the update of the 22-year-old refuge management plan, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman has said the federal agency might recommend the coastal plain be designated as wilderness. If that should happen, it would be off-limits to oil companies, perhaps permanently."
Mary Pemberton reports for the Associated Press May 11, 2010.