WATCHING GOVERNMENT: A look back at 2006

Jan. 1, 2007
“Fast away, the old year passes… Hail the new, ye lads and lasses!”

“Fast away, the old year passes.... Hail the new, ye lads and lasses!” But before saying goodbye to 2006, a look back at the year’s more remarkable moments in US oil and gas politics seems apt.

Several moments were amusing. A few were significant. All hereby receive a “Watchy,” the annual award introduced in this column a year ago (OGJ, Jan. 2, 2006, p. 29). Recipients include the following...

US President George W. Bush, who in his annual State of the Union address on Jan. 31, earned a “Bully Pulpit” Watchy when he said, “America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology.” The accompanying switch in federal emphasis from conventional to alternative energy research and development accelerated a process that was under way. But it also runs a risk of not funding, and finding, new ways to recover more domestic oil and gas.

Next, an “Uh, oh! My bad!” Watchy goes to unnamed bureaucrats in the US Minerals Management Service who omitted price thresholds from those deepwater Gulf of Mexico leases in 1998 and 1999. If anyone tries to collect the award, we’ll immediately notify MMS Director Johnnie Burton, who probably would like to thank them personally.

On a lighter note

A “Lead Balloon” Watchy goes to Senate Republicans for responding to rising retail gasoline prices on Apr. 27 with a bill to provide motorists a $100 tax rebate. “Consumers are feeling pain at the pump and Republicans are moving aggressively to address their concerns,” Majority Leader William H. Frist (R-Tenn.) said. They moved even more aggressively away from the idea when voters responded with howls of laughter.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) receives a “Tell It Like It Is” Watchy for calling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain “a barren slope” during the final hour of House floor debate on a bill to open the area to oil and gas leasing on May 25. It was a refreshing contrast to ANWR leasing opponents’ characterizations of all parts of the refuge as a pristine national treasure to be preserved for future generations.

A “Stop the Presses!” Watchy goes to the 109th Congress’s Joint Economic Committee for concluding in an Oct. 31 report that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has been trying to manipulate world oil prices.

Last, but not least

Finally, a “Never say die!” Watchy goes to Louisiana’s congressional delegation for its eventually successful struggle to get immediately adjacent coastal states a share of federal offshore royalties.

Louisiana has said it will spend the money for coastal restoration and hurricane protection. But the provision’s inclusion in the final bill also establishes a precedent for other coastal states reconsidering whether to allow oil and gas activity off their shorelines.