- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 30, 2009

A federal appeals court ruling won’t stand in the way of new oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington clarified late Tuesday that its decision earlier this year to block some Bush-era drilling plans was meant to apply only to activity in Alaska, not the Gulf.

Uncertainty over the decision had raised questions about whether the Interior Department should move forward with a lease sale scheduled for Aug. 19 in about 18 million acres in the western Gulf near Texas. The Obama administration announced recently that it planned to hold the Gulf sale but acknowledged it might have to reverse course if the court directed it to.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Wednesday he was pleased with the court’s clarification.

With Republicans criticizing the administration’s energy policies, Mr. Salazar is billing the lease sales as part of a “comprehensive energy plan that reduces America’s dependence on foreign oil.”

The department’s Minerals Management Service, which conducts lease sales, estimates the area could yield up to 423 million barrels of oil and up to 2.64 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The United States uses about 7.5 billion barrels of oil per year, so the estimated oil production is the equivalent of roughly a three-week supply. The nation uses about 23 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year, so the estimated gas production amounts to nearly six weeks of consumption.

The April decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington came in a legal challenge to proposed drilling off Alaska. Ruling that Bush administration officials had not properly reviewed potential environmental consequences, the court vacated a five-year drilling plan.

Mr. Salazar said Wednesday that the department would continue working to address the environmental concerns over the Alaska drilling.

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