According to an Interior Department statement released with the new plan last week,the plan opens up 75 percent of oil and gas reserves and schedules 15 lease sales – mostly in the Gulf of Mexico – between 2012 and 2017.
Rep. Doc Hastings,R-Wash.,Natural Resources Committee chair,said that isn’t enough.
“In all honesty,Mr. Secretary,the plan compared to where the opportunities were going into this administration is,maybe a kind word is,underwhelming,” he said to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
Republicans stressed that lease sales are only the first step on a long road to production.
Hastings showed data illustrating that from lease sale to oil production takes roughly 9½ years,which Republicans used to emphasize another point – production touted as being the highest in a number of years is the result of activity that took place under previous administrations.
Rep. Jeff Landry,R-La.,cited a recent Wall Street Journal article that said crude oil prices were rising in anticipation of domestic production decline.
“You can’t turn the oil and gas industry on and off like a light switch. Y’all guys are really putting us in a precarious situation,” Landry said. “We have to increase our production and open up some additional areas.”
Through multiple rounds of what Republicans called filibustering and what Salazar called “ear-banging,” the secretary rebutted the suggestion that the Obama administration was against oil and gas development. He said that based on current fuel prices oil companies should be eager to produce.
Along with Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey,Salazar said his department recognizes the importance of the fuel source for the coming decades.
“We’re not naïve,” Abbey said. “In the foreseeable future,our nation will be reliant on oil,gas and coal.”
Salazar said the department’s goal is “robust” development of natural resources tempered by regulations that protect people and the environment.
“I think it’s important for the committee and for Congress and the United States not to have amnesia about the Deepwater Horizon and the Macondo well,” Salazar said. “It was,in fact,a national crisis.”
He said rushing into areas such as Alaska,the Atlantic and other gas shale regions without enough information could lead to more moratoriums in the event of an accident.
The plan schedules lease sales in Alaska for 2015 – late in the five-year timeframe – to allow for additional science and information about how companies would respond to a blowout in such extreme conditions.
That is a major concern of Democrats,including Rep. Edward Markey,D-Mass.,who said he’ll continue to monitor industry’s progress. Markey introduced legislation Wednesday to end “the free ride” for oil,gas and mining companies on public land and said that’s where the committee’s focus should be. He wants higher royalties from drilling and fewer tax breaks for oil companies.
“Rather than complaining about a five-year drilling plan that opens up more areas than oil companies could ever drill in that time,” he said,“the Republican majority should join Democrats in creating the 10-year plan we need to reduce our deficit.”
Reach reporter Hope Rurik at [email protected] or 202-326-9861. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.