Moves to open up the Alaska wildlife refuge to oil drilling could begin early next year, it emerged today.
President George Bush was unable to secure legislation to allow drilling in the environmentally sensitive site during his first term in office.
But following his solid election victory last week, Republicans said they have their “best chance” yet to tap the area for the estimated 11 billion barrels of oil it holds.
Richard Pombo, chairman of the House Resources Committee, told the New York Times: “It’s probably the best chance we’ve had.”
Senator Pete Domenici, the Republican chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said he would press to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
“With oil trading at nearly fifty dollars a barrel, the case for ANWR is more compelling than ever,” he said.
He added: “We have the technology to develop oil without harming the environment and wildlife.”
Mr Bush is also expected to call for greater energy production by easing rules for oil and gas drilling on federal land in the Rocky Mountains.
The first attempt to allow drilling in the Alaska refuge failed two years ago. Opponents in the Senate voted against the move by 52 to 48 votes.
But the election put more Republicans in the Senate, making it much more likely the president could win a majority.
The issue is likely to run up against serious opposition from environmental groups in the US and around the world.
The coastal plain where drilling would take place is a breeding ground for caribou and home to polar bears, musk oxen and millions of migratory birds.
“This is as serious a threat to the refuge as any that has come before,” said Jim Waltman of the National Wildlife Federation.
“This is still a magnificent area and it can still be damaged by oil drilling.”