House leaders press national drilling program

Bob Tippee

House Democrats are pressing a national drilling program for the US.

They want the oil and gas industry to drill up existing leaseholds before they'll allow leasing in highly prospective but controversial areas such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain in Alaska.

They tried to advance their national drilling program first through the use-it-or-lose-it approach to leasing.

A House bill introduced last month would have accelerated relinquishment of unproductive leases and prevented the issuance of new leases to companies not developing existing leasehold diligently enough.

The secretary of the interior would have received authority to decide what constitutes diligent development. Several antileasing interior secretaries of the past would have relished the power.

HR 6251 failed. House leaders now propose annual lease sales for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to show, according to Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, that "Democrats support increasing the domestic production of petroleum and our other energy resources."

They just support production where they support it and not where they don't—such as in ANWR or off the East and West Coasts.

They seem to think the problem is reluctance to drill acreage already leased—notwithstanding contrary evidence such as briskly rising completion totals and rig counts.

Hoyer took pains to point out that operators hold leases (he mistakenly said drilling permits) covering 68 million acres and that NPR-A covers 20 million acres.

Naming states whose combined areas represent 88 million acres, he called the total "an enormous amount of land on which drilling could take place."

See? The Democratic leaders don't oppose drillingat least not now that strenuously high oil prices have made consumers ask why so much federal acreage hasn't been leased.

The Democrats just want Americans to think they know better than oil companies do where drilling should occur. And if they get their way it will occur there or not at all.

It's a national drilling program, the essence of which are drilling decisions made by people who don't have to place capital at risk or know anything about play development.

National drilling programs don't produce much oil or gas.

(Online July 11, 2008; author's e-mail:

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