Archive for '2011'

    Senate ethanol vote: symbolic or something more?

    June 17, 2011 12:27 PM by nicksinwashdc

    Two days after rejecting US Sen. Thomas A. Coburn's (R-Okla.) amendment aimed at ending federal fuel ethanol subsidies, the Senate adopted one proposed by Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Coburn which would phase the tax credit out by 73 to 27 votes. The June 16 vote was more symbolic than significant since the bill which was involved won't likely to become law. But it happened nevertheless.

    There were few surprises in this vote. Members from agricultural states voted against it, just as members from oil and gas producing states oppose efforts to end federal tax provisions which that industry considers necessary for its economic well-being. "We should be having this debate in the context of a comprehensive energy plan," Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), a member of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, said during floor debate.

    "Nearly every type of energy gets some market-distorting subsidy from the federal government," he continued. "An honest energy debate should include ethanol, oil, natural gas, hydropower, wind, solar, biomass, and probably a lot of other alternative energies I don't think of right now. By discussing it in the context of an overall energy policy instead of singling out ethanol right now, we would then be able to make sure we have a level playing field for all forms of energy because the government shouldn't be choosing between petroleum and alternative energy, as an example."

    But Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) said that while he preferred to let the subsidy expire at the end of 2011 instead of ending it immediately, he voted for the amendment to make clear that he wants the 2004 Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit to end. Refiners who blend ethanol into gasoline, not ethanol producers, claim the 45¢ credit for each gallon of ethanol they blend into gasoline, he explained. It costs the federal government an estimated $5-6 billion/year in taxes, he added. Many people consider the 2005 and 2007 federal renewable fuel standards more effective tools in increasing domestic ethanol production, Bingaman said.

    Ethanol advocacy groups quickly pointed out that the Senate also defeated an amendment proposed by John McCain (R-Ariz.) to prevent federal investment in ethanol blending pumps or storage facilities by 59 to 41 votes. "This vote signifies that an anti-ethanol wave in Congress isn't swelling, but rather that all this attention on ethanol was little more than political posturing," the Renewable Fuels Association said in a June 16 statement. "Lawmakers must now pivot to fact-based, comprehensive discussions about diversifying America's fuel markets and weakening the grip of OPEC and other nations over our economy and energy security."

    Oil and gas industry associations did not issue formal comments, probably because they were preoccupied with trying to increase access to federally-controlled domestic resources or trying to get the US Department of State to make a decision about the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline project's cross-border permit. But they also couldn't have missed that several supporters of the Feinstein-Coburn ethanol amendment said during floor debate that it's also time to end federal tax incentives for oil and gas.

    Demanding 'Big Oil' pay its fair share

    May 13, 2011 12:51 PM by nicksinwashdc
    Forget, for the time being, US Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) suggesting, at a May 11 Senate Finance Committee hearing, that a ConocoPhillips May 11 press release headline (“ConocoPhillips Highlights Solid Results and Raises Concerns Over Un-American Tax Proposals at Annual Meeting of Shareholders”) questioned his patriotism and required an apology. Ignore for the moment Sen. Ron Wyden’s (D-Ore.) continued skepticism when executives from US oil companies operating overseas said their firms are truthfully separating royalties from taxes paid to foreign governments in their US Internal Revenue Service filings.

    It was John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) who got to the heart of the matter when he said the 5 witnesses “get caught up in your profits and can’t understand the concept of sharing. You seem out of touch not only with what we’re trying to do, but also with the American people. I don’t think you have any idea what the size of your profits does to their ability to accept what you say.”

    Witnesses reiterated statistics showing that the oil and gas industry is the most heavily taxed US business, and studies showing that greater access to domestic oil and gas resources would generate more government revenue than increasing the industry’s taxes. None of this seemed to matter to the committee’s Democrats. They apparently were determined to get so-called Big Oil to pay a bigger share to help reduce the budget deficit.

    With the exceptions of Louisiana’s Mary L. Landrieu and Alaska’s Mark Begich, Senate Democrats overall believe that requiring the nation’s 5 biggest oil companies to surrender tax deductions enjoyed by smaller producers and the rest of American business is a small price to pay because the majors made so much money in 2011’s first quarter. “We have a responsibility to review everything,” said Debbie Stabanow (Mich.). “Taxpayers expect us to ask tough questions. It’s very appropriate to look at whether a tax deduction which was enacted in 1916 is still appropriate. It’s not that we don’t want you to be successful. It just may not make sense to subsidize what you’re doing.”

    Thomas R. Carper (Del.) said that congressional Democrats and Republicans have been conferring with the administration on ways to reduce the federal budget deficit. “We basically were told to look in every nook and cranny,” he said. “There’s a strong belief in this country that some of the tax deductions for your industry do not get us results we deserve. We’re going to vote on this bill sometime next week, but it should not be the end of the conversation. Later this year, we’re going to vote on reducing the deficit by some $4 trillion and everything will be on the table.”

    ExxonMobil Corp. chief executive Rex W. Tillerson responded that the nation’s top multinational oil company supports comprehensive tax reform. “Everything should be on the table. If you’re going to repeal Section 199, repeal it for everyone,” he said. “The object is to create conditions for greater investment in this country. That’s where a lowering of general rates would help. The foreign tax code needs an overhaul as a well. The principals we live by are to make US investments attractive and don’t harm US operations overseas.”

    “I don’t think the American people want shared sacrifice,” observed Chevron Corp. chief executive John W. Watson. “They want shared prosperity. Oilfield workers who can’t work today because their companies can’t receive drilling permits or access to more leases feel the pain.”

    That idea did not sit well with Rockefeller. “I think the main reason you’re out of touch, particularly with respect to Americans as we try to balance the budget, is that you always prevail in the halls of Congress for a variety of reasons from your lobbyists to where you do business,” he said. “The size of the amount of money you make is hard for average people in West Virginia to understand. They’ve always in the process of losing. Everything is an uphill battle. My view is that I’m holding onto a huge boulder with 2 hands and trying to push it uphill. If I take one hand off, the boulder and I disappear into the gulch.

    “I have never seen any industry so successful that it gives you a sense of assurance I don’t see from the steel or automobile executives I’ve seen sitting there at the witness table,” he continued. “I don’t think you have any reason to feel threatened because of how votes line up in this Congress. But I yearn for at least one of you to see what American people are facing in terms of losing health and unemployment insurance, and consider what you can do to address that.”

    The Menendez bill’s chances of passing the full Senate when it comes to a vote aren’t good. The hearing about it revealed a deeply felt attitude among most Democrats on that side of the Capitol that the industry is a perfect tax increase target because they believe it isn’t paying its fair share now. It’s an attitude that could make matters difficult if this committee begins the serious deficit reduction discussions its chairman, Max Baucus (D-Mont.), wants later this year.

    Improve federal oil spill research coordination, GAO urges

    May 6, 2011 10:38 AM by nicksinwashdc
    The federal Inter-Agency Coordinating Committee on Oil Pollution Research should establish a more systematic process to identify and consult with key non-federal stakeholders about oil pollution risks and research needs on an ongoing basis, the Government Accountability Office recommended.

    The committee, which the 1990 Oil Pollution Act established, should also evaluate contributions from its completed research and provide an update of efforts to revise its plans in its 2012 biennial report to Congress, GAO said in a report it publicly released on Apr. 25.

    It said that the committee’s member agencies, which include the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement; the US Coast Guard; the US Environmental Protection Agency; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; the US Navy; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, have spent $163 million on oil pollution research.

    About $145 million of this amount came from the Oil Spill Liability Trust fund which OPA established and which was funded primarily from a tax collected on domestically produced and imported crude oil, the report said. The tax was 5¢/bbl when OPA became law, but expired in 1994. It was reinstated in 2005 and increased to 8¢/bbl.

    GAO said that federal agencies have conducted at least 144 research oil pollution prevention and research projects since 2003, “but the inter-agency committee had a limited role in facilitating the coordination of agency efforts.” It established a joint research plan in 1997 which identified oil pollution risks and research priorities, but has not updated it in light of oil production and transportation changes, the report added.

    It said that the committee also submitted biennial reports to Congress but did not identify member agencies’ progress addressing gaps which the 1997 research plan identified. “Until recently, it also had not revisited the plan, as the National Research Council recommended,” GAO said. The committee’s efforts to foster communication and coordinate its members’ research, and to reach out to the oil and gas industry, states’ organizations, and other stakeholders, also was limited until recently, according to the report.

    In a March 4 response to an early draft of the report, the US Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Coast Guard, said that it generally concurred with the recommendations and is addressing them. It noted that DHS’s fiscal 2012 budget request includes a full-time position as executive director of the inter-agency oil pollution research coordinating committee, and the position is a key step in the Coast Guard’s efforts to revitalize the program.

    Vitter questions Ex-Im Bank loans to Petrobras, Ecopetrol

    April 29, 2011 3:32 PM by nicksinwashdc
    US Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has raised questions about the Export-Import Bank of the United States making loans totaling billions of dollars to Brazil and Colombia’s national oil companies while the Obama administration seemingly discourages access to and development of domestic resources.

    “Domestic energy policy cannot be based on crippling access, stifling permitting, and increasing taxes on production – as [US President Barack] Obama has recently proposed – while at the same time loaning billions to foreign government-owned entities to produce abroad,” Vitter said on Apr. 30. “These loans may well create numerous jobs domestically for US businesses to sell product overseas. However, there is no doubt that domestic production creates domestic jobs that cannot be shipped overseas.”

    Vitter first mentioned this to Ex-Im Bank President Fred Hochberg in a Mar. 17 letter when he referred to an August 2009 letter he wrote Obama about a $2 billion loan to Petrobras which produced a response from the Ex-Im Bank suggesting there would be a significant return on the investment from interest on the loan as well as an increase in the growth of US manufactured products used by Brazil’s offshore industry.

    Noting in his Apr. 29 letter to Hochberg that the bank subsequently approved a $1 billion loan to Ecopetrol, Colombia’s national oil company, Vitter said: “I was very specific about the information I requested from Ex-Im more than a month ago. I requested the particulars of the return on investment the American taxpayer can expect from these loans as well as the US businesses intended to benefit from the financing arrangements. Is it safe to assume that Ex-Im does preliminary analysis before issuing loans that evaluates the return on these loans to the US government and US businesses? Is it also safe to assume that Ex-Im should readily be able to provide that information to Congress upon request?”

    The senator noted that while the Ex-Im Bank is an independent federal agency, it also is congressionally authorized and responsible to the US taxpayer. “I would appreciate a full accounting of the return on these ‘investments’ Ex-Im has been making as we develop domestic energy policy in a period when [gasoline] prices are above $4/gal and American families and businesses suffer,” he said. “These loans may well create numerous jobs domestically for US businesses to sell product overseas. However, there is no doubt that domestic production creates domestic jobs that cannot be shipped overseas.”

    BOEMRE monitors Cuban offshore

    April 15, 2011 8:55 AM by nicksinwashdc
    US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement Director Michael R. Bromwich quietly included Cuba as he emphasized working with other countries in developing better offshore oil and gas regulations.

    Working with Cuba’s regime poses a challenge since the United States does not recognize it. Repsol YPF SA, which is leading a consortium planning to drill its first well off the island nation’s coast, is another matter. The Spanish multinational reached out to BOEMRE some months ago to discuss its plans to drill off Cuba, Bromwich said told reporters on Apr. 12. Talks are continuing, he added.

    “The places to be drilled are close to Florida’s coast, and in the loop current, so we will be watching them closely,” noted US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who also participated in the briefing at the Interior Department's headquarters.

    Petroleum ministers in Mexico and Brazil told him that the Apr. 20, 2010, Macondo well accident and crude oil spill shocked the world, and that they were very interested in implementing more effective regulations, he continued.

    “Most companies operating in the US deepwater operate globally, so the new standards we are requiring can be implemented worldwide,” Salazar said. That apparently could be the case in Cuba.

    Obama’s Clean Fuels Partnership gives NGVs a boost

    April 5, 2011 12:46 PM by nicksinwashdc
    Natural gas vehicle proponents were elated when US President Barack Obama announced formation of a National Clean Fuels Partnership Apr. 1 in Landover, Md. The president may have spoken more about hybrids and electric vehicles, but NGVs still made it into his remarks.

    “If we’re serious about making the transition from gas-guzzlers to hybrids, then we’ve got to show automakers and truck manufacturers that there’s a real market,” he said. “They're not going to build them if they don't think anybody’s going to buy them. We need to show them that if they manufacture fuel-efficient cars and trucks, people will buy them. We need to put our money where our mouth is.”

    UPS, FedEx, AT&T, Verizon, PepsiCo, and other large businesses already have developed large fleets that run on fuels besides diesel and gasoline, Obama noted. “That’s why we’re launching a National Clean Fleets Partnership,” he said. “If you’re a business that needs to transport goods, then I’m challenging you to replace your old fleet with a clean energy fleet that’s not only good for your bottom line, but good for our economy, good for our country, and good for our planet. And if you accept this challenge and you join our Clean Fleets Partnership, we’re going to make a number of tools available – from technical assistance to cutting-edge research and development – that will help you make the transition to a clean energy fleet.”

    Obama said that he has heard repeatedly from owners of vehicles which run on petroleum alternatives that refueling infrastructure is critical. “We don’t have the distribution platforms right now. That’s something we’ve really got to work on,” he observed.

    Oil and gas industry groups applauded the president’s remarks. “We welcome the president’s focus on natural gas as an option for transportation fuels and hope to see administration policies and programs that will encourage, rather than discourage, the production and distribution of this important domestic resource,” said Bob Greco, the American Petroleum Institute’s downstream operations director. “We also need sensible policies that preserve a robust U.S. refining industry to supply fuels for the existing vehicle fleet for years to come. We hope that the president is signaling a true shift for clear, effective policies that make use of our domestic resources while preserving this important industry.”

    “In making his announcement at a UPS facility today, the president selected a company that has a fleet of more than 1,100 natural gas delivery trucks,” said Tom Amontee, executive vice president at America’s Natural Gas Alliance. “[NGVs] outperform conventional fuels with a significantly higher octane rating, better fuel efficiency and lower operating costs - all while offering dramatic reductions in emissions. With the price of natural gas nearing half that of traditional gasoline, greater use of [NGVs] is a smart business decision as well.”

    When Christopher A. Smith, who heads the US Department of Energy’s Fossil Energy Office, addressed an American Gas Association Natural Gas Roundtable luncheon on Feb. 22, he noted that Colombia, where he spent three years, has 300,000 NGVs on the road. “The technology is there,” he said, adding that it’s also much more advanced than the technology for electric vehicles.

    Hastings bills target administration’s offshore policies

    March 29, 2011 3:33 PM by nicksinwashdc
    US House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said on Mar. 29 that he will introduce three bills aimed at reversing Obama administration offshore oil and gas decisions and policies. “The bills will end the de facto moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico and allow people to return to work, require lease sales to be held that were canceled or delayed by the Obama administration, and lift the administration’s ban on new offshore drilling by directing production to occur in areas with the most oil and natural gas resources,” he told reporters at a press conference.

    The bills’ prospects of moving beyond the Republican-controlled House aren’t particularly bright, but they will give members a chance to go on record again about the issue. Many congressional Democrats are saying that the US Department of the Interior’s report on already issued federal leases which aren’t producing or being actively explored, which DOI released as Hastings announced his legislation, justifies so-called “use it or lose it” requirements instead.

    “In contrast to the president’s drill nowhere new plan, this is a drill smart plan,” said Hastings. “The majority of Americans support offshore energy production and these bills will allow it to move forward in a safe, responsible, and efficient manner. With thousands unemployed in the Gulf [of Mexico] region and gasoline prices nearing $4/gal, swift action must be taken to reverse course and increase US energy production.”

    Two oil and gas industry groups applauded his move. “Bold leadership during these challenging times is necessary to get folks back to work in the gulf and to provide the energy resources so critical to fueling this country’s economic well-being,” said National Ocean Industries Association President Randall B. Luthi. “While much of our attention of late has been appropriately focused on the present day pace of permitting and its impact upon jobs, we are just as concerned with the lack of national policy direction for the future regarding access to the oil and gas resources of the US Outer Continental Shelf.”

    Con Lass, senior director of federal relations at the American Petroleum Institute, also welcomed Hastings’s bills. “The energy markets are constantly looking for signals to guide today’s investment strategies for producing tomorrow’s energy. Regrettably, the signals this administration has been sending encourage less investment in future domestic energy production,” he maintained. “Our economy will still need oil and natural gas for decades to come. America must pursue policies that encourage responsible development of our resources instead of relying on imported energy from unstable parts of the world.”

    OMSA asks ?where’s the beef?’ in deepwater drilling permits

    March 21, 2011 11:47 AM by nicksinwashdc
    In 1984, the Wendy’s fast food restaurant chain hired a retired manicurist named Clara Peller for an advertising campaign in which she visited a competitor’s outlet, ordered a hamburger and, once it arrived, raised the top bun, and bellowed: “Where’s the beef?” The phrase became so popular that Democratic Presidential candidate Walter F. Mondale successfully used it the same year to suggest that rival Gary Hart’s proposals lacked substance. The tactic didn’t work nearly as well when Mondale tried to use it in televised debates with presidential incumbent Ronald Reagan.

    Although Mrs. Peller died in 1987, I couldn’t help thinking of her on Mar. 18 when Offshore Marine Service Association President Jim Adams essentially asked the same question after the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement announced that it had approved a third federal deepwater drilling permit since new regulations were imposed following the Macondo well accident and crude oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico last year.

    Adams basically said that the new permits which have been issued were for operations already under way when US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar suspended drilling at 32 deepwater wells in the gulf late last spring. “Secretary Salazar is merely allowing existing permit holders to resume their operations,” Adams continued. “This administration has yet to approve a new deepwater exploration proposal submitted in the last 11 months.”

    BOEMRE issued the new permit to ATP Oil and Gas Corp.’s Well No. 4 in Mississippi Canyon Block 941 about 90 miles south of Venice, La., where a rig had been on-site in April 2010 to resume drilling which had been suspended the previous July when Salazar imposed his moratorium. The agency said that it approved the new permit after reviewing ATP’s containment capability for the well using the Helix Well Containment Group’s capping stack.

    “Secretary Salazar is treating gulf workers like peasants, tossing us work crumb by crumb and expecting us to be grateful,” Adams said. “We're tired of fighting for scraps. We want to get back to work – all of us, not just a handful of crews.”

    In a separate response to BOEMRE’s announcement, US Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said that ATP’s receiving the permit was welcome, “but a mere drop in the bucket for where we need to be.” He said that he would continue his hold on US President Barack Obama’s nomination of Dan Ashe to lead the US Fish and Wildlife Service until BOEMRE issues at least 15 deepwater drilling permits and complies with his other requests for answers about the permitting process.

    Salazar picks Ocean Energy Safety Advisory Committee lineup

    March 15, 2011 10:04 AM by nicksinwashdc
    US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the members of the Ocean Energy Safety Advisory Committee, including four representatives from the oil and gas industry, on Mar. 11. The committee will be a permanent advisory body providing critical guidance on improving offshore drilling safety, well containment, and spill response offshore. Salazar created it on Jan. 19 and sought nominations soon after.

    The oil and gas industry representatives are Charlie Williams, chief scientist for well engineering and production technology at Shell Oil Co.; Paul Siegele, president of Chevron Energy Technology Co.; Joseph Gebara, senior manager and structural engineer at Technip USA Inc.; and Don Jacobsen, senior vice president for operations at Noble Drilling Services Inc.

    Members representing academia are Nancy Leveson, a system safety and process safety professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Richard Sears, a senior science and engineering advisor who was chief scientist at the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling; and Tad Patzek, a professor and chairman of the University of Texas at Austin’s Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering Department.

    The group also includes a single member from an environmental organization: Lois Epstein, the Arctic Program director at the Wilderness Society.

    Members from the federal government include two experienced, high-level officials: Walter D. Cruickshank, deputy director of the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (who held a similar post when it was the US Minerals Management Service), and Christopher A. Smith, the deputy assistant US energy secretary for oil and gas who leads the Department of Energy’s fossil energy office.

    Others may not be as well known, but seem very well qualified: Capt. Patrick Little, commanding officer at the US Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Center; Mathy Stanislaus, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s assistant administrator for solid waste and emergency response; David Westerholm, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s response and restoration office; and Steve Hickman, a geologist at the US Geological Survey.

    Perhaps it’s because I’ve just finished reading the latest daily reports from the Washington Nationals’ spring training, but I can’t resist saying that Salazar put some very heavy hitters in this team’s lineup. It will be interesting to see what happens as they take the field and begin to work out.

    Senators press Salazar to issue more offshore drilling permits

    February 16, 2011 3:35 PM by nicksinwashdc
    Nine US senators from coastal producing states, led by Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) and Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.), filed a resolution urging US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to help get offshore oil and gas exploration workers back on the job by streamlining the federal government’s review process for deepwater and shallow water drilling permits.

    Mark Begich (D-Alas.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), and Roger F. Wicker (R-Miss.) co-sponsored the Feb. 16 resolution, which also asked that Salazar provide both groups of offshore drilling contractors with a sample application to be used as a template.

    Salazar imposed an overall offshore drilling moratorium on May 6 following the Apr. 20 Macondo well blew out, causing the Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible rig to explode and kill 11 workers before sinking and releasing a massive amount of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The US Department of the Interior has issued fewer than 35 shallow water permits since that moratorium was lifted on May 28 and no new deepwater permits since that ban was lifted on Oct. 12, the resolution said.

    It charged that DOI has not clearly outlined requirements for either shallow water or deepwater drilling contractors to get new permits, resulting in 12 rigs leaving the gulf. "In spite of the offshore drilling moratoriums being lifted, permit delays are causing rigs to sit idle and threatening to send American jobs and tax revenue overseas,” Hutchison said in a statement. “Energy producers must have adequate guidance on new safety and environmental regulations so they can put Americans back to work and continue to strengthen our domestic energy supply to keep fuel costs low.”

    "It has been nearly 10 months since the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the Interior Department still has not streamlined the shallow water permitting process," added Landrieu. "This de facto shallow water drilling moratorium is having a painful impact on the Gulf Coast's economy. Just last week, Seahawk Drilling announced that it will file for bankruptcy primarily because of a lack of permits being issued. I don't know how much more it will take before this administration understands the harsh consequences of its intransigence.”

    A DOI spokeswoman responded that production and exploration in the gulf are ongoing, and that offshore producers, drilling contractors, and service and supply companies continue to make progress toward developing the capability to contain blowouts in deep water, which the Macondo blowout made clear is critical to safe deepwater exploration.

    “Permits to drill are issued solely based on whether a company’s application meets rigorous safety and environmental standards, including demonstrating containment capabilities,” she told OGJ by e-mail. The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement continues to issue permits, and is working as expeditiously as is safely possible to review drilling applications as they are submitted and ensure they meet safety standards put in place in the wake of the accident and spill, she continued.

    A 10th US senator, David Vitter (R-La.), met with BOEMRE Director Michael R. Bromwich after the lawmaker placed holds on the nominations of Scott Dooney to become chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Dan Ashe to lead the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

    “I wish my meeting with Director Bromwich was more fruitful,” Vitter said following the Feb. 16 meeting. “Unfortunately, pretty much all he did was repeat the administration’s talking point that there is no de facto drilling moratorium in the gulf.”

    Senate Democratic leaders echo Obama’s oil tax call

    February 10, 2011 1:54 PM by nicksinwashdc
    As US House Republicans tried to find $32 billion in spending cuts, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and nine other Democrats from that side of the Capitol suggested ending what they called “giveaways to oil companies” to save at least $20 billion over 10 years.

    Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), Policy Committee Chairman Charles E. Schumer (NY), Democratic Conference Secretary Patty Murray (Wash.) and Sens. Bill Nelson (Fla.), Robert Menendez (NJ), Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), and Kirsten Gillibrand joined Reid in making the suggestion to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) in a Feb. 8 letter. President Barack Obama is expected to call for elimination of the percentage depletion allowance, drilling cost expensing, and other oil and gas production incentives, along with the manufacturers’ tax exemption for the oil and gas industry, when he submits his fiscal 2012 budget request to Congress on Feb. 14.

    “There is broad, bipartisan agreement on the need to rein in spending, make government more efficient and bring down the deficit,” the senators wrote. “We believe that the question before us is not whether we should do any cutting, but what exactly should be cut. So, as you consider spending-cut ideas for the remainder of this fiscal year, we ask that you focus on cutting programs that are wasteful and inefficient, as opposed to those that help create jobs and spur economic growth.

    “We are concerned that some of the cuts you may propose could undermine future growth just as our economy is beginning to recover. Instead, we urge you to consider ending a number of tax loopholes and other subsidies that benefit big oil and gas companies,” they told Boehner. “Closing these loopholes would save the federal government more than $20 billion over 10 years. This is just one example of a wasteful item in the budget that could be cut in order to make a down payment toward reducing the nation’s deficit. If the House chooses to adopt this suggestion, it would represent a good first step towards cutting spending in a bipartisan way.”

    The 10 Senate Democrats, who did not include Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (NM), said that ExxonMobil Corp.’s 53% higher fourth quarter earnings and Chevron Corp.’s 72% year-to-year improvement for the period show that “oil and gas companies are doing just fine while many Americans are still struggling to find work and support their families.

    “The days of big oil companies making billions in record breaking profits while receiving billions in taxpayer-financed subsidies must end. It defies common sense to cut programs that are creating jobs, helping jumpstart our manufacturing sector and strengthening the middle class while protecting taxpayer-funded handouts to big oil companies that add little to our economic or energy security,” they maintained. “During these tough economic times, closing more than $20 billion in loopholes for big oil and gas companies would send a clear message that we can cut spending while protecting the middle class.”

    Boehner did not formally respond, but he apparently does not plan to take the suggestion seriously. Independent producers, stripper well owners, refiners and others do because they would suffer significantly if the repeals find their way into the final fiscal 2012 federal budget.

    Obama throws down the gauntlet

    January 26, 2011 10:22 AM by nicksinwashdc
    US President Barack Obama wasted little time in his 2011 State of the Union address urging Congress to repeal federal tax incentives for the oil industry. The request came soon after he said that encouraging American innovation was the first step in winning the future, and he described clean energy technology research as “an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.”

    “We need to get behind this innovation,” he said a few minutes later. “And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.”

    Oil and gas lobbyists expected him to renew the request he’s made in the administration’s last two federal budget requests. They recognize that Republicans taking control of the House and increasing their numbers in the Senate present an obstacle to its being enacted, but they’re also not complacent. “It’s still going to be a fight,” one told me.

    Here’s one reason why: The only other industry he singled out for criticism was health insurance, when he said he was not willing to go back to the days when companies could deny someone coverage because of a pre-existing condition.

    More broadly, Obama said that the federal government needs to remove barriers which he said stand in the way of investing heavily in innovation, education, and infrastructure. “For example, over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries,” he maintained. “Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all. But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and it has to change.

    “So tonight, I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system. Get rid of the loopholes. Level the playing field. And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years – without adding to our deficit. It can be done,” the president said.

    He tried often to strike a conciliatory tone by saying that both sides of the congressional aisle need to work together to meet many significant challenges. It’s very possible that his request to end oil and gas industry the White House believes are outmoded will be the first big test of his call to simplify the federal tax code. And yes, it’s still going to be a fight.

    Responses to Obama’s regulatory review order

    January 18, 2011 7:28 PM by nicksinwashdc
    Most oil and gas, as well as environmental, organizations did not respond immediately to US President Barack Obama’s Jan. 18 executive order for federal agencies to review their regulations and improve them where necessary. The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association did.

    NPRA President Charles T. Drevna said that the order calls for elimination of federal regulations which hinder economic growth and job creation. “At a time when unemployment tops 9% and our nation’s vital manufacturing base is shrinking, President Obama is acting in the nation’s best interests,” Drevna said in a Jan. 18 statement. “By removing unnecessary regulatory burdens, the president can free up the mighty engine of our free enterprise system to create jobs and bring a return to prosperity for families across our nation.”

    US Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue also welcomed Obama’s order. “While a positive first step, a robust and globally competitive economy requires fundamental reform of our broken regulatory system,” he said on Jan. 18. “Congress should reclaim some of the authority it has delegated to the agencies and implement effective checks and balances on agency power. It also means repealing or replacing outdated or ineffective regulations, ensuring realistic cost-benefit analyses using quality data. No major rule or regulation should be exempted from the review, including the recently enacted health care and financial reform laws.”

    At the core of Obama’s order is the idea that each federal agency should propose or adopt a regulation only after reasonably determining that its benefits justify its costs (recognizing that measuring such costs and benefits can be difficult). An agency should structure its regulations to impose the least burden on society while reaching regulatory objectives, “taking into account, among other things and to the extent practicable, the costs of cumulative regulations.”

    It should select approaches which maximize net benefits (including potential economic, environmental, public health and safety, and other advantages; distributive impacts; and equity. It should, to the extent feasible, specify performance objectives instead of specifying the behavior or compliance methods for regulated entities to adopt. And it should “identify and assess available alternatives to direct regulation, including providing economic incentives to encourage the desired behavior, such as user fees or marketable permits, or providing information upon which choices can be made by the public.”

    Other responses to Obama’s order undoubtedly will appear after oil and gas and other groups study it more fully. But it initially looks as if the president has accepted the idea advanced by Republicans, the US Chamber, and other business organizations that new regulations’ potential costs should be honestly and objectively determined and considered before rules are finally adopted.

    Two officials at the Center for Public Integrity at New York University’s School of Law said that the order is significant because it will give groups seeking stronger environmental, public health, and safety protections more tools. Richard Revesz, the law school’s dean and the center’s faculty director, said that the president made several noteworthy changes to the federal regulatory review process which progressive groups should embrace.

    “First, he underscores the importance of considering the equitable distributional impacts of regulation, to protect the well-being of the most vulnerable groups in our society,” he said. “Second, he creates more opportunities for public participation. “Third, he expresses a strong commitment to scientific integrity, to prevent risk assessments from being skewed to promote political ends. Fourth, he incorporates under-regulation into retrospective review of rules, recognizing that too little regulation can be as pernicious as too much. Fifth, he asks for better coordination among federal agencies so that they don’t work at cross purposes. Sixth, he enhances the transparency of the regulatory process, so that the public can better evaluate the actions of the government.

    “The cumulative effect of these changes is to balance the scales of cost-benefit analysis in the direction of strong and effective government protections for the American people,” Revesz maintained.

    Michael Livermore, the center’s executive director, said that Obama opened new channels for public interest groups to make the case that stronger health and safety policies often make good economic sense. “By signing this document, Obama will reiterate his commitment to the pragmatic notion that data counts for more than demagoguery,” he said. “This move demonstrates the administration’s belief that when cost-benefit analysis is done right, the facts often support stronger protections.

    “In the long term, this order is likely to displease those industry groups that want less regulation without regard to public benefits,” Livermore continued. “Balanced economics don’t work that way: Both the costs and the benefits of protecting Americans’ health and environment must be given equal weight. Obama’s move today will help those public interest groups seeking smarter stronger protections, and will help lead to a fairer fight in the regulatory arena.”

    Congress weighs in on Obama spill commission’s final report

    January 12, 2011 11:54 AM by nicksinwashdc
    Members of Congress wasted no time in offering their assessments of the final report which US President Barack Obama’s independent oil spill investigation commission issued on Jan. 11. Others will come at two upcoming hearings by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee the morning of Jan. 26 and the House Natural Resources Committee that afternoon.

    Initial responses were generally predictable. Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.), a Natural Resources committee member, said that she agrees with the commission’s recommendation to raise the $75 million liability cap, but warned that it should not go so high that small independent companies go out of business. She also applauded the idea of increasing the US Bureau of Offshore Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement’s budget and workforce.

    But she disagreed with the notion that BOEMRE should have 90, instead of 30, days to approve offshore drilling permit applications. “We have successfully drilled more than 58,000 wells using a 30-day approval window, and if we strengthen BOEMRE’s ability to oversee drilling, it should not be necessary to add another 60 days to the approval process. It is not a matter of how long the review period is, it is about the effectiveness of the review,” Landrieu maintained.

    Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said that the commission’s report confirmed many of his “longstanding concerns about a lack of industry safeguards, poor regulatory oversight and our limited response capabilities. So I’m going to keep pushing for raising the liability limits to make sure polluters, not the taxpayers, foot the bill; and, to fix the ways we prevent and respond to spills. I’m also going to try to persuade enough of my colleagues in Congress to join with me. And I’m going to continue to fight any industry effort to place oil rigs off Florida’s coast.”

    “The report and recommendations released today underscore the significant safety and environmental risks associated with offshore drilling, and spotlight the systemic lapses that led to the tragic Deepwater Horizon spill,” Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said. “Some steps have already been taken to improve safety, but this report makes clear that more needs to be done to prevent a disaster like this from ever happening again. I am committed to working with my colleagues in the Senate to move forward on legislation that addresses the commission’s recommendations, ensures that oil companies are held accountable, and protects jobs, coastal communities and the environment.” She said that the committee also will hold a hearing with commission members in the coming weeks.

    On the House side of the Capitol, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), the Natural Resources Committee’s new chairman, said that he has emphasized, from the outset, the importance of having all the facts surrounding the Apr. 20 Macondo well accident, which killed 11 people, and subsequent massive crude oil spill so that Congress, the federal government, and the oil and gas industry could make smart, educated, and effective reforms. “Several of the recommendations put forward deserve real consideration and will be more closely examined during our committee hearings,” he said. “Reforms should accomplish our shared goals of improving safety, allowing drilling to move forward in a timely manner, and putting people back to work. Proposals that prolong the de facto moratorium in the Gulf, cost American jobs, or delay future energy production will be viewed skeptically in both the House and Senate.”

    Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.), the committee’s ranking minority member, noted that the commission’s report contained several recommendations identical to many in legislation he sponsored last summer when he was chairman. He said that H.R. 3535, the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act, would have increased oil rig safety to prevent the next oil spill and protect workers, cracked down on ethical lapses, required businesses to be responsible for their actions, and reduced the federal deficit by $5.3 billion over the next five years. The House passed the bill by 209 to 193 votes in July, but Senate Republicans blocked the bill in the last Congress, Rahall said.

    Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), another Natural Resources committee member, endorsed the commission’s findings and said that “it’s imperative we all work together to implement [its] recommendations, especially ensuring federal agencies have the proper training, personnel and funding needed to do their critical oversight and enforcement jobs properly.” She said that the recommendations include a number of other key reforms, some of which were included in legislation the House passed last year, including “changing the law so that polluters, and not taxpayers nor victims, are responsible for the economic and environmental damages from an oil spill; giving [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] an enhanced role in offshore oil and gas leasing decisions; and separating scientists responsible for environmental review of projects from the leasing process to ensure the integrity of these reviews.”

    House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders also responded. Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said that he was disappointed that, “even after completing its final report, the commission has left unanswered the fundamental question of what went wrong. Rather than clearly identifying the root cause of this unprecedented disaster, the commission’s report is limited to general assertions about the enforcement agencies and industry as a whole. Neither this nor any investigation should be used as political justification for a pre-determined agenda to limit affordable energy options for America. Without clear and specific evidence of what went wrong with this isolated well, unlike the tens of thousands that have never experienced similar failures, we will not learn the lessons needed to ensure a disaster like this will never happen again.”

    Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), who chairs the committee’s Energy and Power Subcommittee, said that he would continue to review the commission’s report, and monitor cleanup and recovery efforts to make sure that its recommendations and current regulations are protecting the environment without shutting down responsible exploration in the gulf. “We must strike the appropriate balance between protecting our environment and not tying the hands of responsible development. A ‘one size fits all’ moratorium on off shore exploration is not that balance,” he declared.

    As the commission issued its final report, the US Energy Information Administration said in its latest short-term energy outlook that global crude oil markets will tighten over the next two years as consumption grows by an average 1.5 million bbl/day annually and growth in supplies outside the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries increases less than 100,000 b/d yearly. It said that it expects domestic crude oil production, which grew by 150,000 b/d in 2010 to 5.51 million b/d, to decline by 20,000 b/d in 2011 and 130,000 b/d in 2012. The 2011 forecast includes declines of 50,000 b/d in Alaska and 220,000 b/d in federal Gulf of Mexico production, which are almost offset by a projected 250,000 b/d increase in non-gulf production in the Lower 48 states, it said. In 2012, EIA said that it expects Lower 48 non-gulf output to grow by 70,000 b/d, Alaskan production to fall by 20,000 b/d, and output in the gulf to decrease by 180,000 b/d.
Stay Connected