"An internal Interior Department memo has proposed lifting restrictions on exploratory seismic studies in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a possible first step toward opening the pristine wilderness area to oil and gas drilling.
The document proposes ending a restriction that had limited exploratory drilling to the period from Oct. 1, 1984, to May 31, 1986. It also directs the agency to provide an environmental assessment and a proposed rule allowing for new exploration plans. The document, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, was first reported by The Washington Post.
The Arctic refuge, which covers more than 30,000 square miles, has been closed off to commercial drilling for decades because of concerns about the impact on polar bears, caribou and other animals in the region. Opening it up has been a top priority for Republicans. Doing so, even to determine how much oil is available, would be politically explosive and set the stage for bitter fights between the administration and environmental groups."