Debate stirs over Alaskan energy policies

June 7, 2013 at 7:32 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, June 7 (UPI) -- Energy exploration conducted in an Alaskan reserve area decades ago left behind a legacy of contamination, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said.

Murkowski, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, told Interior Secretary Sally Jewell there was a legacy of environmental damage in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, explored by the federal government from 1944 to 1981.

"More than 100 wells were drilled by the federal government and then simply abandoned," she said during testimony Thursday. "These 'legacy wells' are full of contaminants that pollute the environment and the federal government has all but abandoned its responsibility to clean up after itself."

She expressed concern about a May decision by the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management to outline 50 such wells that needed attention.

Jewell said her department recognized the need to address the record of contamination in Alaska, but said there wasn't enough money to clean the area properly. She acknowledged Alaska formed "an important component of our nation's energy strategy."

Murkowski published a 121-page proposal for the U.S. energy sector in February, calling for independence from Middle East oil by 2020 through more domestic drilling.

Jewell said a "balanced plan" for Alaska would advance energy security goals while at the same time allaying concerns about energy exploration in northern climates.

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