Bush administration handicapped until appointees confirmed

US President George W. Bush's supply-oriented energy policy is winning cheers from the oil and gas industry, but other energy proposals are temporarily stalled until he assembles his new administration.

May 23rd, 2001


Sam Fletcher
OGJ Online

HOUSTON, May 23 -- US President George W. Bush's supply-oriented energy policy is winning cheers from the oil and gas industry, but other energy proposals are temporarily stalled until he assembles his new administration.

An environmental impact study (EIS) on the proposed use of floating production, storage, and offloading systems (FPSOs) in the Gulf of Mexico "is sitting on my desk" awaiting someone with the authority to handle such issues, said Tom Fulton, special assistant to US Interior Sec. Gail Norton, at offshore conference Wednesday in Houston.

The US Minerals Management Service, part of the Interior Department, issued that EIS in early February. It stated at that time that a generic FPSO and its operations would pose no additional threat to the Gulf Coast environment.

However, only 10 of the 145 policy planning positions within the Interior Department have yet been filled by the new administration, said Fulton at the meeting sponsored by the Houston chapter of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

Four of the six authorized assistant secretaries have been named but have not yet appeared before the US Senate for confirmation. Sec. Norton is the only executive decision-maker within the department who has been confirmed by the Senate, Fulton said.

As to when more executives might be confirmed and decisions may be made on FPSOs, the proposed December sale of federal offshore leases in the eastern gulf, and other issues, he said, "I have no clue. Probably sooner rather than later, depending on whether the Republicans or the Democrats control the Senate tomorrow."

As Fulton was meeting with oil and gas industry members in Houston, Sen. James Jeffords (R-Vt.), a moderate Republican, postponed until Thursday a press conference at which he was expected to announce he is leaving that party to become an independent. Jeffords is expected to align with Democrats for organizational purposes, which could tip the balance of power within the US Senate.

Despite these and other concerns, most independent producers still seem confident in their ability to find and develop new oil and gas resources in US waters.

"What a great time to be in the energy business," said Charles D. Davidson, the new chairman, president, and CEO of Noble Affiliates Inc. "It's great because there finally is (public and political) recognition that energy is vital to this nation and that our industry has an important role to play. Hopefully, there will also be a recognition of our ability to deliver."

At Wednesday's meeting, Davidson succeeded Bob Boswell, president and CEO of Forest Oil Corp., Houston, as chairman of the IPAA offshore committee.

Contact Sam Fletcher at samf@ogjonline.com

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