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Sources say White House may reverse offshore drilling ban


By Maureen Lorenzetti
OGJ Online


WASHINGTON, DC, Mar. 15�Industry officials and lawmakers from oil producing states say the political timing is right for the White House and Congress to lift the 20-year drilling ban on most federal waters.

Tight natural gas supplies and the electricity crisis in California has led the White House to actively consider a proposal to lift the moratorium on exploration on the east and west coasts of the US, most of Alaska, and most of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, sources said.

The recommendation could come as soon as the end of this month when the President�s interagency energy task force reports its initial findings.

Industry and congressional sources cite several encouraging signs that a policy reformulation is in the works. First, they point to President George W. Bush�s remarks this week that drilling should be considered on all public lands, including national monuments.

Another signal from the administration came Thursday from Department of Energy Sec. Spencer Abraham, who told a Senate panel that blackouts in California are �inevitable� this summer. Veteran policymakers also note Bush�s pronouncement that higher energy costs were a deciding factor in his decision against regulating carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act.

However, proponents of the offshore moratorium note it will take more than the White House to remove the bans, which block federal agencies from spending funds on offshore lease planning.

Lisa Speer of the Natural Resources Defense Council testified before the House Resources Committee that since 1981 Congress has annually renewed the restrictions on Outer Continental Shelf leasing.

Former President George Bush supported the ban, as does the president�s brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

The issue clearly cuts across regional rather than political lines. In an interview with OGJ Online, Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) supported Bush�s recent announcement saying, �Everything should at least be considered. You can take some things off the table. And (you can) put some back on, but it all should be considered.�

Meanwhile Democrats representing energy consuming states argue that industry should focus exploration on public lands already available for leasing.

�What we are talking about is sequencing,� Rep. Ed Markey told OGJ Online. �There is only about 5% of public lands that are completely restricted, so why go after them first?�

Industry officials testifying before the Resources panel argued that about 29 tcf of Rockies gas resources, which could be used to supply gas-fired generation in California, are closed to development for environmental reasons. Another 108 tcf are available with restrictions, testified Marlan Downey, president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.


Contact Maureen Lorenzetti at Maureenl@OGJOnline.com.


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