WATCHING GOVERNMENT: ANWR among leak casualties

Sept. 18, 2006
A bill to authorize oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is dead.

A bill to authorize oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is dead. A conference to reconcile different approaches to reforming leasing on the Outer Continental Shelf hasn’t been scheduled. And reauthorization of the Pipeline Safety Act faces continued delays.

These are the three main legislative casualties following a leak in one part and the shutting down of another portion of BP PLC’s oil gathering system on Alaska’s North Slope. Two of the three might yet be salvaged.

The ANWR bill clearly won’t. It passed the House but faced problems in the Senate. Opponents will ask why additional leasing should be authorized along the North Slope when part of the existing system apparently was not properly maintained.

Even supporters raised the point during the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Sept. 12 hearing on BP’s problems at Prudhoe Bay.

“I believe this kind of incident sets back any hope we had of getting that bill through Congress,” said Daniel K. Akaka (D-Ha.), who supports ANWR leasing.

‘Reinstate credibility’

Committee chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-NM) agreed. “We need to reinstate the credibility we had in the pipeline system on the North Slope, or we’re not going to have the votes we need,” he observed.

Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) indirectly alluded to the two OCS bills. “While there’s no excuse for what happened in Alaska, I have to say that if the industry had access to less hostile environments-where temperatures don’t drop to 50º below zero-we might not have as much trouble managing infrastructure,” she suggested.

“It’s hard to sit here and be quiet when the federal government itself and many Democrats and some Republicans in Congress are preventing leasing and development of so many areas in the Lower 48 states,” Landrieu said.

Although a House-Senate OCS conference hadn’t materialized, sources told me that several unofficial meetings have been held to start ironing out differences. But it’s not certain if there will be enough progress to move before Congress adjourns early next month.

Pipeline safety

At the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Sept. 8 hearing on BP’s North Slope problems, some members warned that this must not delay reauthorization of the Pipeline Safety Act of 2002. Martin Edwards, vice-president for legislative affairs at the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, concurred later.

“With only 3 weeks left in the session, Congress needs to act. The solution is not inaction or delay,” he said, adding that the kind of integrity-management approach used by natural gas pipelines might also be applied to low-pressure oil lines.

The bill, which passed the Senate and cleared the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, reached the Energy and Commerce Committee in late July, where it is reportedly a priority for Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and likely to move to mark-up soon.