Congress fight expected in oil exploration move

In a 51-to-49 US Senate vote, oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) moved closer to reality in a major victory for the Bush Administration’s energy policy.

Republican leaders in the Senate succeed in attaching drilling proposals to the 2006 budget resolution as a potential source of revenue. The move sidestepped a potential filibuster by Democrats which would require 60 votes, requiring only a 51-vote majority.

The measure is seen among proponents as an important part of the effort to reduce US dependence on foreign oil and comes as prices remain close to record highs. Opponents focus on the environmental impacts and deride so-called low impact oil production technologies.

The measure still requires approval by Congress, a process which is still far from certain after close to two decades of debate and public opinion is largely against drilling.

With the House still working on its 2006 budget, the two legislative chambers will have to reconcile any differences before oil exploration in Alaska can proceed. But while the fight in Congress over ANWR may be a close one, industry interest in the politically charged Arctic refuge seems to have waned.