Arctic Drilling: What’s at Stake for New Jersey?

TRENTON, N.J. – A plan to open up a cherished landscape to oil and gas drilling is steadily moving through Congress – and could have implications for New Jersey.

The Senate tax proposal could be voted on early this week, and tied to it are plans to allow leasing of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

While the area may be thousands of miles away, Kelly Mooij, vice president for government relations for New Jersey Audubon, says it’s not some frozen corner of the planet.

She explains its extraordinary natural ecosystem is connected to the Garden State. WINTER-SCENERY-1-1

“New Jersey birds are moving back and forth migrating there, breeding there and then coming back to New Jersey,” she states. “And so we’ve got this really critical link in terms of protecting these wonderfully diverse array of species that are coming all the way from the Arctic.”

The nearly 20 million acre refuge has been protected for decades, but the Senate bill could open the door for oil and gas drilling on the entire 1.5 million acres of coastal plain.

Supporters argue it would generate more than $1 billion in federal revenue to offset proposed tax cuts.

Environmental and conservation groups argue the economic benefits are overstated, and do not outweigh the possible threats to the fragile landscape.

Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez of New Jersey, both Democrats, have supported measures to prevent oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and Mooij is counting on them and other lawmakers continue to protect the region,

“We’ve got a great history of bipartisan support of natural resources in New Jersey,” she states. “I hope that once again we’ll see that they will stand up and protect it against any possible threat or this type of exploration.”

According to research from the National Wildlife Federation, the amount of oil in the refuge is speculative, and at peak production is estimated to only meet 5 percent of U.S. oil needs in coming decades.

Legislative attempts to open the area to oil exploration failed in 1995 and again in 2005.

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