The Latest: Bill to open Arctic refuge to drilling advances

WASHINGTON — The Latest on congressional action on oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (all times local):

12:45 p.m.

Oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge moved closer as a key Senate panel approved a bill to open the remote refuge to energy exploration.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday approved the drilling measure, 13-10. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia joined 12 Republicans to back the bill.

Opening the remote refuge to oil and gas drilling is a longtime Republican priority that most Democrats fiercely oppose. The 19.6-million acre refuge is home to polar bears, caribou, migratory birds and other wildlife.

Republican Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski says drilling can be done safely with new technology. She says the measure would generate $2 billion in royalties over the next decade, with half the money going to her home state.

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12:07 p.m.

Oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is moving ever closer after a nearly four-decade political standoff.

A key Senate panel began debate Wednesday on a bill to open the remote refuge to energy exploration — a longtime Republican priority that Democrats fiercely oppose.

Republican Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski says drilling would generate $2 billion in royalties over the next decade, with half the money going to her home state.

Environmental groups and other critics call those projections wildly optimistic, saying low global oil prices and high exploration costs could limit drilling.

A bill sponsored by Murkowski calls for two lease sales over the next decade in at least 400,000 acres (625 square miles) each in the refuge’s coastal plain.