- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2009

Top oil company executives asked Congress on Wednesday to open the nation’s coasts to offshore drilling as the Obama administration continued reversing Bush White House policies that opened national land and coasts to oil exploration.

“The choice is clear: We can continue to import increasing volumes of oil and gas, or we can develop more of our own domestic resources,” said Marvin Odum, president of Shell Oil Co. “Producing more oil and gas in our own country is a no-lose proposition.”

Executives from Shell, BP America, Devon Oil Co., ExxonMobil and Chevron testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources as it held its final of three hearings Wednesday to determine the nation’s offshore drilling policy.

Democratic lawmakers, however, have been tepid to move quickly on offshore drilling, saying they prefer to examine further what resources are available offshore.

“There are clear benefits to offshore drilling - including jobs, tax and royalty income and money that we keep here at home instead of sending it overseas,” said committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall II, West Virginia Democrat.

“But the amount of additional oil that we could drill offshore is a drop in the bucket of what we need to sustain our economy and meet our energy needs,” he said.

Former President George W. Bush lifted an executive ban on offshore drilling last summer, and Democratic lawmakers allowed a congressional moratorium to lapse last year in the final stretch of the 2008 elections, with gasoline prices hovering around $4 a gallon.

“Unlike the $790 billion stimulus package lawmakers just passed, increased offshore activity would fuel our economy without squandering taxpayer funds,” said Thomas J. Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance and the Institute for Energy Research, which advocates free-market energy policies.

“Oil and gas is one of the U.S.’s only industries in a position to put money into, rather than take money out of, the government’s piggy bank,” he said.

Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar continued the Obama administration’s policy of halting Bush administration rules and regulations, announcing he would pull leases for oil shale research and development and allow 90 days for the public to comment.

“The previous administration offered their oil shale leases just days before leaving office, made the parcels four times the size of the current six leases, and then locked in low royalty rates and a premature regulatory framework for those leases,” Mr. Salazar said Wednesday.

“If oil shale technology proves to be viable on a commercial scale, taxpayers should get a fair rate of return from their resource.”

Earlier this month, Mr. Salazar halted a Bush administration plan to lease underwater plots on the nation’s outer continental shelf, asking for additional public comment before setting a five-year drilling policy.

Mr. Obama ordered his Environmental Protection Agency to review California’s request to strengthen car emission standards earlier this month, and asked the agency to speed the writing of rules for a national fuel-efficiency standard.

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