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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 January 2007, 01:30 GMT
Drill ban sought for Alaskan park
By David Willis
BBC News, Los Angeles

Alaskan polar bears
The area has an abundance of polar bears and other wildlife
Legislation has been tabled in the United States aimed at making a ban on oil drilling at a wildlife refuge in Alaska permanent.

Wildlife campaigners are hoping the new Democrat-led Congress will adopt such a move, which has been rejected on several occasions in the past.

The legislation would make about 500,000 hectares of land along Alaska's Arctic coast a protected wilderness.

It is rich in wildlife but also has more than 10bn barrels of oil.

Political shift

To many environmentalists the area represents probably the ultimate wild place in need of protection.

It has been compared to the Serengeti nature reserve in Africa because of its abundance of wildlife - polar bears, oxen, caribou and millions of migratory birds.

Map of Alaska
But it is also thought the area could supply up to one million barrels of oil a day at peak production.

US President George W Bush has said repeatedly that he believes it is possible to protect the environment while still allowing drilling to take place.

He believes the area is essential for lessening US dependence on foreign energy sources.

Outlawing drilling in the area has been tried in the past without success.

But with Democrats now in the majority in the US Congress and a number of moderate Republicans on record as supporting the move, chief sponsor of the legislation, Representative Edward Markey, believes he stands a good chance of success.

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