API survey finds gap between voters, federal officials on development

A substantial gap exists between registered voters’ support for more US oil and gas development on federal lands, and what they think federal officials actually are doing about it, according to a recent survey commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute.

Nielsen’s random telephone survey of 1,012 largely suburban registered voters July 11-13 found 77% support more production of US oil and gas, including 92% of Republicans, 80% of Independents, and 66% of Democrats, API said on July 23. “But only 28% said the federal government does enough to encourage domestic oil and gas development,” API Upstream Group Director Erik Milito noted.

“And 68%—including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents—say they would be more likely to vote for candidates who support offshore drilling,” he told reporters. “Clearly, voters do not think energy should be a partisan issue.”

The survey’s results came days after the US Bureau of Offshore Energy Management (BOEM) moved a step closer to authorizing geological and geophysical surveys of the South and Mid-Atlantic US Outer Continental Shelf (OGJ Online, July 18, 2014).

“These surveys will give our industry and the government a clearer picture of the oil and gas resources hidden beneath the Atlantic seafloor, although there is a lack of scientific support for some of the constraints the government might place on survey operations,” Milito said.

Surveys by next spring

“If permits are issued swiftly, survey operations could begin by next spring,” Milito said. “But the potential resources these surveys reveal will remain off-limits unless the federal government agrees to hold lease sales and allow drilling to begin.” API plans to submit comments to BOEM next week as the US Department of the Interior agency considers where to hold OCS lease sales after the current program ends in mid-1917, Milito said.

The National Ocean Industries Association also expressed concern that BOEM might needlessly delay seismic survey permits on the South and Mid-Atlantic OCS.

“For decades in the Gulf of Mexico and around the world, seismic surveys have been a tried and true method for making informed, environmentally sound decisions with regard to oil and gas activities,” NOIA Vice-Pres. for Policy and Government Affairs Jeff Vorberger said on July 18. “Our member companies are eager to use this same scientifically guided process to fully realize the Atlantic’s remarkable potential.”

But BOEM’s announcement also made US Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) respond. “Obviously, you cannot have oil drilling where we are dropping the first stages of our military and civilian rockets launched at the Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station,” US Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said.

“Drilling off Florida’s Atlantic coast is unwise and impractical,” he added. “It could interfere with the military operations off of Florida’s northeast coast, not to mention the environmental hazard that drilling would pose.” Nelson said he and other members of Florida’s congressional delegation planned to write US President Barack Obama a letter about the matter.

87% off-limits

Milito said 87% of the federally managed OCS is not available for energy exploration and development. “Expanding US energy production in areas the federal government currently holds off-limits would grow our economy and provide new sources of income for the government,” he maintained. “In the Atlantic alone, the benefits could equal 280,000 new American jobs and $51 billion in revenue for the government.”

Allowing more offshore oil and gas development in the Atlantic, Pacific, and eastern Gulf of Mexico also would make it harder for other producing nations to use supply cut-off threats to undermine diplomacy, Milito added. “80% of the voters in our poll recognize that producing more oil and gas here at home strengthens our national security by reducing the impact of political instability in other parts of the world,” he said.

US Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), meanwhile, sent a letter to US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell signed by California’s US senators and 32 other House Democrats from the state on July 22 asking that the Northern, Central, and Southern California OCS Planning Areas be excluded from BOEM’s draft proposed 2017-22 leasing program. The letter was submitted as part of a comment period which ends July 31.

The American Chemistry Council, in comments it submitted on July 21, called for more US OCS oil and gas access. “As an industry whose global competitiveness is closely tied to an abundant and affordable supply of natural gas, we support a 5-year program that preserves all areas currently available for leasing, allows for leasing in new areas such as the South and Mid-Atlantic, and provides for scoping and contingent leasing of the eastern Gulf of Mexico,” it said in a separate statement.

“We welcome last week's decision by BOEM to issue permits for seismic testing off the Atlantic coast, a step that could enhance understanding of America's potential oil and gas resources,” ACC added.
Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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