- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Taking the handcuffs off the oil and gas industry would put more than a million Americans to work in the next seven years and make an $800 billion dent in the national debt by 2030, according to a new study released Wednesday.

The report, compiled by the Scotland-based consulting firm Woods Mackenzie and funded by the American Petroleum Institute, was unveiled a day before President Obama outlines a long-awaited jobs proposal before a joint session of Congress on Thursday night.

While his proposal is likely to include an infrastructure bank and an extension of the payroll tax holiday, oil and gas companies hope the president will simply announce that he’s getting out of their way.

“All he has to do is say the word and I promise you this industry will immediately go to work,” said API President Jack Gerard, speaking at an Energy Jobs Summit hosted Wednesday by the Hill newspaper.

Mr. Gerard outlined steps that President Obama can take on his own, without waiting for energy legislation to work its way through a gridlocked Congress. They include: an expansion of offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico; opening up drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR); allowing companies to tap reserves in some sections of the Rocky Mountains; and embracing the vast natural gas deposits in the Marcellus Shale, which stretches from upstate New York as far south as Kentucky and contains trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.

Mr. Gerard also voiced support for the Keystone XL pipeline, a $7 billion project that would carry crude oil from Canada to states as far south as Texas.

If the API plan is adopted, the industry estimates that more than 1 million jobs would be created by 2018, and exceed 1.4 million by 2030. At least $36 billion in new tax revenue would funnel into the Treasury by 2015, and nearly $803 billion by 2030, according to the study.

The U.S. would also take a major step forward in its energy security. By 2030, the equivalent of 35.4 billion barrels of oil could be produced domestically, the report states.

“If the full potential of domestic oil and gas production could be achieved while also increasing imports of Canadian oil, all of America’s liquid fuels could come from secure North American sources within 15 years,” Mr. Gerard said.

But Mr. Obama, fresh from a decision to rescind unpopular ozone regulations, may be reluctant to give the oil and gas industry free rein in places like the ANWR, long held sacrosanct by environmentalists.

Many Democrats continue to tout wind and solar power as the nation’s energy future, while calling for an end to subsidies for oil companies. Environmental groups staunchly oppose offshore drilling and want stricter federal guidelines on “fracking,” the use of water, sand and chemicals to crack rock and extract gas from the Marcellus Shale.

With the two sides seemingly far apart, the nation continues to move forward without a coherent energy policy, said Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, while speaking at the jobs summit.

Mr. Nelson said all types of energy — oil, natural gas, nuclear, wind and solar — must be a part of the mix. “To me, that’s what the administration can do. If you put together a plan at least you know where you are, what’s left out and where you need to go,” he said.

The oil and gas industry is also concerned that, with lawmakers searching for ways to reduce deficit spending, the industry will be singled out and tagged with additional taxes. If that happens, John Watson, CEO of Chevron, said companies would shy away from hiring more workers and would reduce investments they make in American energy production.

“We pay our fair share of taxes we just want to be treated fairly,” he said Wednesday.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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