OCS was moving into foreground before 2009's first congressional hearing

A US House committee's Feb. 11 hearing will mark the first time the 111th Congress examines offshore oil and gas leasing. But House Republicans and others haven't been silent on the issue.

When the US House Natural Resources Committee holds the first of its three scheduled hearings on offshore oil and gas leasing on Feb. 11, it will mark the first opportunity for the 111th Congress to discuss the issue.

House members haven't been silent on the matter, however. Led by Reps. Kevin P. Brady (R-Tex.) and John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.), Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and 67 other House Republicans asked US President Barack H. Obama not to close Outer Continental Shelf areas months after congressional leasing moratoriums expired.

"As you know, at the height of our nation's energy crisis last year, the American people spoke with one voice to express their outrage when they saw that not only were we dependent upon foreign oil, but furthermore, that energy resources located within American territory were locked away and could not be developed," the lawmakers told the president in a Feb. 4 letter that also went to US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

"Our national vulnerability was on plain display for the American public last summer because we lacked a coherent energy policy to allow for responsible energy exploration and development," they added.

Jobs and revenue

Especially in the current economic downturn, policy changes which would further eliminated US jobs or stifle their creation would be a mistake, the House Republicans said. They cited ICF International's recent study which concluded that developing currently untapped US offshore energy resources would create more than 160,000 jobs by 2030. The federal government could raise $1.7 trillion of revenue by tapping the billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas off the US coast, they added.

"Our country needs to remain on the path to American energy independence, and we believe this is a critical and achievable goal. Energy exploration means more jobs and stronger national security; nothing less is at stake. We respectfully urge that you allow the five-year offshore drilling plan to continue because it is vital to our economy. Moreover, energy exploration can be achieved responsibly with the needs of our environment in mind," the House Republicans said.

In a Feb. 4 teleconference about his cancellation of about two-thirds of the successful bids from a Dec. 18 Utah oil and gas lease sale, Salazar was evasive when one reporter asked him about his OCS plans. Late the afternoon of Feb. 9, however, he announced that he would outline his strategy to reporters at a press conference on Feb. 10.

Online support

On Feb. 3, the Institute for Energy Research began to collect comments supporting the US Minerals Management Service's new five-year OCS plan online. It noted that the plan, which contains 31 lease sales in 12 offshore planning areas, would be the first time in more than 25 years that many potentially energy-rich tracts would be considered.

"Unlike many of the make-work jobs the economic stimulus plan purports to create, greater domestic energy production creates real jobs. I can think of no better or more immediate way to invigorate this nation's economy than to responsibly develop our abundant, domestic, taxpayer-owned energy resources," IER President Thomas J. Pyle said.

As of Feb. 9, an IER spokeswoman told me, the group's online website had received more than 6,500 comments supporting more OCS leasing.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

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