WASHINGTON, DC, July 5 -- US Senate Democrats and Independent James M. Jeffords of Vermont have raised concerns over a federal oil and gas lease sale in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) scheduled for September.
Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, chief minority member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee; Senate Minority Leader Harry Reed of Nevada; Jeffords; and 16 others said in a letter to US Interior Sec. Dirk A. Kempthorne that only a single well was drilled in the reserve in the past drilling season despite 2.8 million acres being leased.
They suggested that the situation could be exacerbated by provisions in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which they said allow producers to hold federal leases for 30 years without commencing production and allow them to combine leases into larger production units.
"While we appreciate that conditions for development are difficult on the North Slope, we are concerned that these provisions could be implemented by the department to allow oil and gas companies to hold leases for lengthy periods without production of the domestic oil and gas resources that Americans need," they said.
Kempthorne's predecessor, Gale A. Norton, set the sale in motion before she resigned earlier this year, a spokesman for the Energy and Resource Committee's minority staff said.
The 19 Senate Democrats also expressed concern that the law might be interpreted to allow production in the NPR-A without payment of royalties or to extend royalty relief in situations where it is not warranted.
They also expressed "serious reservations" about the proposed sale's possible impact on the environment and on subsistence users. The group asked Kempthorne to reconsider inclusion of previously protected areas in the proposed sale.
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