Feb. 2 (UPI) -- Opening up the potential for oil and gas in parts of an Alaskan wildlife refuge was one of the biggest components of the tax overhaul, the U.S. president said.
The U.S. tax reform passed late last year included language inserted by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, that opened the so-called section 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drillers. Murkowski's office said the section the 1002 Area is a non-wilderness portion of the refuge and her provision carved out only a "small portion" of the acreage for oil and gas drilling.
Speaking at a Republican retreat in West Virginia, President Donald Trump said the parts of ANWR opened to drillers may rank in the top globally in terms of field potential. After hearing it may be "the biggest thing," he said he wanted to make sure it was in the tax bill.
"I really didn't care about it, and then when I heard that everybody wanted it ... I said, make sure you don't lose ANWR," he said.
The tax bill outlined two lease sales over the next 10 years. A study from the U.S. Geological Survey found as much of 10.4 billion barrels of oil could be considered commercial with oil priced at $30 per barrel. Brent crude oil, the global benchmark for the price of oil, was near $70 per barrel early Friday.
In his State of the State address in mid-January, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said opening up ANWR was a clear signal from the Trump administration to develop natural resources to support an economy hobbled by the energy market collapse a few years ago.
"We make nothing on oil discovered but left in the ground," he said. "Access and production are key."
After the tax bill passed, members of the indigenous communities in Alaska were joined by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., in voicing opposition to the effort to drill in ANWR.
No Democrat voted in favor of the tax bill.
In early December, the Interior Department put 900 tracts covering 16,100 square miles in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska on the auction block. The auction garnered bids for only seven of those tracts.