House Subcommittee restores oil and gas research funds

The House Subcommittee on Interior Appropriations Thursday restored funds to oil and gas research programs that would have been cut under the US Department of Energy's 2002 budget proposal. But the battle over Lease Sale 181 will be left to the full appropriations committee, which meets next week.


Maureen Lorenzetti
OGJ Online

WASHINGTON, DC, June 7 -- The House Subcommittee on Interior Appropriations Thursday restored funds to oil and gas research programs that would have been cut under the US Department of Energy's latest budget proposal.

The bill would give $56 million to DOE's fossil energy program for oil research and development, a $26 million increase from the White House's request, and $1 million above the 2001 fiscal year funds. For gas, $40 million is earmarked, $19 million over the White House request but $5 million below last year's spending levels (OGJ Online, Apr. 9, 2001).

Congressional sources predicted those funding levels will likely be preserved when the spending bill reaches the full committee for a vote next Wednesday.

The bill in its present form is bipartisan and noncontroversial. Lawmakers sought to avoid the most contentious issues that in the past have made the subcommittee a policy battleground between industry and environmental interests.

Along with restoring funding to fossil energy research, lawmakers added back money for energy efficiency and conservation. There was no mandate to sell oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and appropriators would boost the SPR budget to $179 million, $10 million over the president's request and $19 million more than last year. And it does not allocate funds for assessing oil and gas resources in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Instead of earmarking funds for ANWR, budget makers gave the money to the Bureau of Land Management so it can clear a backlog of coalbed methane production permits. BLM's overall budget would also increase to $93.5 million, $16 million above last year, to help the agency complete an inventory of the oil and gas potential of public lands.

The bill would preserve a decades-old moratorium on most offshore drilling except for parts of the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. It would not block Lease Sale 181, scheduled for December in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

However, the fate of Lease Sale 181 is still uncertain. Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), the chairman of the full committee, opposes the sale. Young is backed by Gov. Jeb Bush (R), the president's brother. The White House says it supports the sale although it has signaled, through Interior Sec. Gale Norton, that it may be willing to remove some tracts from the sale for environmental reasons.

Interior's Minerals Management Service has argued the full sale should proceed, noting drilling would be in federal waters nearly 100 miles from the Florida coast. Governors from Louisiana and Alabama do not object to the sale.

A possible compromise to delete some tracts closest to Florida is supported by moderates including the new chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy, Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). Industry complains that those tracts are among the most promising for development.

Contact Maureen Lorenzetti at Maureenl@ogjonline.com.

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