Bush budget calls for Arctic oil drilling in 2010

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration on Monday again asked Congress to allow oil and natural gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, saying $7 billion could be raised in leasing fees from energy companies.

In its proposed budget for the 2009 spending year, which begins on October 1, the White House said it assumed the initial tracts in the refuge could be leased during 2010.

The government would share half the $7 billion in leasing revenue with the state of Alaska.

However, the Democratic-controlled Congress is against opening the area to drilling and the two leading Democratic candidates for president also have opposed energy exploration there.

The refuge, which is home to a variety of wildlife such as polar bears and migratory birds, stretches across 19 million acres in the northeast corner of Alaska.

The White House wants to offer 1.5 million acres (607,000 hectares) in the refuge’s coastal plain for oil and natural gas exploration leases.

The Interior Department estimates the area that would be drilled holds between 5.7 billion and 16 billion barrels of oil.

If the refuge were opened to drilling, it would take about eight years before the area reached full production of around 800,000 to 1 million barrels per day, according to the Energy Department’s analytical arm.

Writing by Tom Doggett; Editing by Walter Bagley