- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A top House Republican on Wednesday called the Obama administration’s de facto drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico “unacceptable,” charging that the government’s failure to issue new permits to drill along the coast was costing the region thousands of valuable jobs.

“The actions and policies of President Obama and his administration to … revoke, tax and drive up the cost of American-made energy is simply mind-boggling,” Rep. Doc Hastings, Washington state Republican and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, told a Capitol Hill hearing.

“When it comes to an energy policy for our nation, the president is headed 180 degrees in the wrong direction. In the Gulf, thousands of Americans who depend on offshore energy production for their livelihood have found themselves out of work,” Mr. Hastings said.

The Interior Department recently issued the first two deepwater drilling permits along the coast since the BP disaster, but Mr. Hastings and other critics say much more needs to be done.

Mr. Hastings said he plans to introduce legislation in the coming days “to put the Gulf of Mexico back to work.”

“The Obama administration seems unmoved by thousands of lost jobs, rapidly rising gasoline prices and the threat these high prices pose to our economy. But this committee will not sit idly by,” he said.

The panel heard from a number of residents of the region who gave personal testimony of economic hardship since the April 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the long struggle of the local drilling industry to recover.

Since the disaster, Mr. Hastings said, the Interior Department has issued only 39 permits for new drilling. The application process is backed up and many of the domestic jobs have moved overseas as many oil rigs have left the Gulf of Mexico for other fields, he said. Several witnesses said the situation called for swift action or the economic impacts will continue to get worse.

“The longer the slowdown goes on, the more chance that deepwater rigs will be increasingly committed to other parts of the world, robbing American workers who have worked so hard to gain the skills to do the tough work of fueling America,” said Scott Angelle, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. “Many employers are being pushed to the edge of a financial cliff. Uncertainty cannot continue indefinitely without consequences.”

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Gulf of Mexico offshore oil at the normal production level accounts for 29 percent of the total U.S. crude oil production and 13 percent of natural gas production.

But Mr. Angelle said that, with new drilling virtually nonexistent, world gas prices and oil prices are spiking as production in the Gulf declines “by nearly 300,000 barrels of oil per day.”

“We are taking a great leap backward,” said Elizabeth Jones, chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the more time it takes to issue permits, the more likely these numbers could double and even triple. It simply doesn’t have to be this way.”

But the economic testimony was challenged in part by Christopher Jones, who told a rapt hearing room of the events leading up to the death of his only brother, Gordon Jones, who was killed when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, 2010.

Mr. Jones told lawmakers that the disaster that took 11 lives could have been avoided had every company involved in the operation taken safety regulations more seriously, and he urged worker safety be established as a priority before drilling begins again.

“Nothing has been passed to ensure the safety of these people working on the rigs,” he said. “I find it interesting how hard the oil industry is working to get back into the Gulf. At the very least, BP and others could work with Congress to improve worker safety so this never happens again.”

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