Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, voted Thursday in committee for the United States to open up for oil drilling some portions of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the north coast of Alaska.

He said the United States needs the area's oil to augment Prudhoe Bay oil when output from that field begins to decline in about five years. The wildlife refuge oil would be a "significant foreign policy tool," Garn added. "The United States must develop the potentially huge Alaskan oil reserves to demonstrate to Arab and OPEC nations that America is serious about maintaining a strong domestic oil supply.The United States now derives more than 50 percent of its oil from foreign sources, Garn said, making the United States increasingly dependent upon other nations and threatening new U.S. gasoline shortages.

The Interior Department has said there is a 95 percent chance of 4.8 billion barrels of recoverable oil being in the wildlife refuge, and a 5 percent chance it contains 29 billion barrels of oil.

The area being considered for drilling covers about 1.5 million acres along the Beaufort Sea on the coastal plain.

Alaskan oil now makes up 20 percent of U.S. production.