Interior Sec. Norton won't restore acreage to eastern Gulf of Mexico sale

Oct. 26, 2001
Despite the new push for energy security, Interior Sec. Gale Norton won't consider restoring 4.4 million acres to the planned offshore lease Sale 181 in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The sale is scheduled for Dec. 5 in New Orleans.

Sam Fletcher
OGJ Online

HOUSTON, Oct. 26 -- In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the US must improve its energy security by investing "in our own backyards, not in Saddam Hussein's back pocket," said Interior Sec. Gale Norton at the annual meeting Friday of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

As part of the new US Homeland Security program, Norton said, "We're having to look at national priorities to make sure we're adjusting to the current situation."

But that doesn't include restoring 4.4 million acres that her department trimmed from eastern Gulf of Mexico offshore lease Sale 181, scheduled for Dec. 5 in New Orleans.

"At this point, we're not considering changing it. That decision has already been made," she told reporters after her luncheon speech to the IPAA.

Norton reiterated her earlier claim that the remaining 1.5 million acres in the reduced Sale 181 area contains an estimated 1.25 tcf of natural gas -- "enough to serve 1 million US homes for 15 years" -- and 185 million bbl of oil -- "enough to fuel 1 million autos for 6 years."

However, industry officials said the larger lease area originally proposed by the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service was projected to have gas reserves sufficient to supply 6.5 million homes for 15 years (OGJ Online, July 2, 2001).

Norton remains committed to opening a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain to exploration. "ANWR is not simply a place to look for oil," she said. "It is the largest onshore area in the US with the greatest potential. It doesn't make sense to eliminate it."

She noted that the US spends about $4.4 billion/year for Iraqi crude under the United Nations program that allows oil sales if Iraq uses a portion of the revenues for food and medical supplies.

Meanwhile, the administration of President George W. Bush is focusing on getting the Senate to pass energy policy legislation that includes a provision for ANWR exploration.

"In the aftermath of last month's terrorist attacks, Americans charged our government to strengthen national security," Norton told an appreciative IPAA audience. "True national security must expand conservation programs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil from dictators such as Saddam Hussein, and create new jobs, all while protecting the environment. The US Senate should immediately allow a fair vote on bipartisan legislation to help families and to reduce our reliance on foreign oil," she said.

US Energy Sec. Spencer Abraham made similar comments at the IPAA's Roustabout dinner Thursday night

Although he had to cancel his scheduled speech at IPAA's general session Friday, Abraham made a "last minute" trip to Houston late Thursday to visit with a group that, by its own account, contributed generously to his earlier political campaigns.

Contact Sam Fletcher at [email protected]