House Democrats propose leasing within NPR-A to increase access

House Democratic leaders said they would increase available domestic oil and gas acreage by ordering the US Bureau of Land Management to begin leasing tracts within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

Jul 18th, 2008

House Democratic leaders said they would increase available domestic oil and gas acreage by ordering the US Bureau of Land Management to begin leasing tracts within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

"Let's be clear: Democrats support increasing the domestic production of petroleum and our other energy resources. However, what continues to be missed is this: Today, there are 68 million acres in the United States that oil producers have permits to drill on. There are another 20 million acres in the NPR-A, an area set aside by Congress for oil drilling, that could be leased," Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said on June 10.

The combined 88 million acres would be roughly equal in size to Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and about two-thirds of Maryland, "an enormous amount of land on which drilling could take place. And we believe such drilling should occur," he told reporters at a briefing.

The proposal to require annual lease sales within the NPR-A will be part of a legislative package that also will include requiring holders of existing leases to develop their tracts more quickly, re-imposing a ban on exporting Alaskan crude oil, and asking US President George W. Bush to finish construction of natural gas and oil pipelines from Alaska as soon as possible, Hoyer said.

"The Republican Party is trying to score cheap political points after their policies failed. Democrats are trying to address the needs of our nation and our people. That is what we will do in the days ahead," he said.

'Election-year interest'

Republicans promptly dismissed the NPR-A leasing proposal as a poor substitute for authorizing leasing on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain. Don Young (R-Ak.), the Natural Resources Committee's ranking minority member, said that while he appreciates Hoyer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) "election-year interest in America's energy crisis," the proposal contains several flaws.

"The oilfields in the NPR-A are scattered over 23 million acres and most of them are much further from the existing pipeline than the 2,000-acre field in ANWR would be. If location is important to Majority Leader Hoyer, than ANWR should be his top choice," Young said.

The US Department of Interior has disputed House Democrats' assertions that oil companies already have permits to drill on 68 million acres, he continued. DOI also has said that opening NPR-A to leasing immediately would bypass National Environmental Policy Act and BLM land use planning processes. Finally, all lands in the NPR-A that are available to be leased under current BLM planning documents have been offered in the past or will be offered before the end of the year, according to Young.

"Majority Leader Hoyer is saying the Democratic energy plan is to put oilfields up for lease that have already been leased, or will be in the next five months. That's not an energy plan; it's a total misunderstanding of the energy leasing process," the US House member from Alaska maintained.

House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) noted that while the US Geological Survey estimates show that the 10.6 billion bbl of recoverable oil within the NPR-A are 200 million bbl more than along ANWR's coastal plain, there are only 281,600 bbl available per square mile in the NPR-A compared with 3.5 million bbl/square mile within ANWR's Area 10-02. Available infrastructure for NPR-A deposits is negligible, with some areas more than 250 miles from an existing pipeline compared with 75 miles in the ANWR proposed tracts, he said.

GOP trip to Colorado, Alaska

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced he will lead a GOP delegation of 10 other House Republicans to Colorado and Alaska next week to highlight solutions for helping reduce gasoline prices and dependence on foreign crude oil. He said that the group will visit the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., on July 18 and Alaska's North Slope on July 20, stops which will promote the "all of the above" approach Republicans favor.

"Policies not widely embraced when gasoline was $2/gal, such as oil exploration on a tiny patch of Alaska's vast North Slope, now enjoy the American people's overwhelming support in the face of $4/gal [gasoline]. That is why my colleagues and I are heading to the Arctic Coastal Plain: to learn about the abundance of American energy held hostage below the tundra by the Democrats in charge of Congress, and to promote the environmentally safe exploration of these resources on behalf of families and small businesses alike," Boehner said.

"At the same time, the future of American energy is in alternative and renewable fuels, which is why we must encourage new and emerging technologies such as those developed at the renewable energy lab we will tour outside Denver," he continued.

When House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) heard about the trip, he sent a letter to Boehner saying that he hoped the group also visits the NPR-A while it's in Alaska. "As you know, the [US] Energy Information Administration estimates that even under the most optimistic scenarios, any new drilling in ANWR would save consumers less than 2 cents/gal. Furthermore, it would take at least 10 years for any oil from the refuge to come on-line. In contrast, the NPR-A is home to more than 20 million acres that are currently ready to be drilled. Additional, the [USGS] estimates that there are 10.6 billion bbl of recoverable oil in the NPR-A," he said.

Boehner wrote back that he was "surprised and pleased to learn of the House Democratic leadership's sudden support for oil and gas exploration in the NPR-A. As you may recall, a provision of H.R. 6, a part of your party's 'Six for '06' agenda passed last year with great fanfare, was intended to prevent increased energy production in the NPR-A.

"If you and other Democrats are now indicating a willingness to reverse your policy on NPR-A and allow energy production in this area, Republicans will certainly work with you to do so as part of a comprehensive energy strategy that also includes environmentally responsible drilling in other critical untapped regions of our country such as ANWR and deep ocean energy zones far off our shores; increased conservation, and accelerated development of alternative fuels," he told Emanuel.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

More in New Plants