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July 26, 2012
Republican energy plan passes in House

Republicans have derided the Department of Interior’s (DOI) final offshore oil and gas leasing program for 2012 to 2017 for not opening new areas to energy production. In response, the Republicans introduced new legislation to replace DOI’s plan to offer 15 potential lease sales with a plan for 29 lease sales, including areas previously under moratoriums. The bill passed in the House on Wednesday. The administration has indicated that the bill would be vetoed if it reached the White House in its current form.

‘Known’ resources opened

The administration’s plan, which was released in late June, with little publicity, according to the Republicans, purports to open the vast majority of known offshore oil and gas resources for development over the next 5 years. Sales will occur in six planning areas—the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico; the portion of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico not currently under Congressional moratoriums; and the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, and Cook Inlet Planning Areas of offshore Alaska.

The DOI states that its plan is not “one size fits all” and is intended to account for the distinct needs of the regions across the outer continental shelf (OCS). “For example, the area-wide leasing model that works for the Gulf of Mexico, where there is a long and consistent history of offshore exploration and development, is not suited to the Arctic,” said Tommy Beaudreau, director of DOI’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

Alaska’s environment

The administration is particularly concerned about the current lack of scientific information on the potential impacts of energy activities on Alaska’s offshore environment, as well as areas used by Native Alaskan communities for subsistence hunting and fishing. This has led to a cautious approach to leasing in the Arctic, said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Even so, the DOI states that the 5-year plan is consistent with President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy, which seeks to further reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil while protecting marine, coastal, and human health. Salazar points out that every year President Obama has been in office, domestic oil and gas production has gone up, imports are down, and currently the nation is producing more oil than at any time in the last 8 years.

Bill offers other areas

None of this impressed the Republicans, who refer to a Congressional Research Service report that says the 15 lease sales represent the lowest number ever included in an offshore leasing plan. In contrast, the Republican plan is targeted toward areas “where we know we have the most oil and gas resources—like the mid-Atlantic, the Southern California Coast, and Alaska.”