House Republicans are accusing President Obama of making a sham announcement to open nearly 38 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling, arguing that the same lease sale was already in the works before he took office.
Ridiculing the president for touting the Gulf lease sales as a “major announcement,” Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee said the Gulf of Mexico area in question was first set to be opened by the Bush administration, so Mr. Obama’s decision to lift the embargo he put in place after the BP oil spill will do nothing to open new areas for exploration.
Rep. Doc Hastings, a Washington Republican who chairs the panel, said the president has delayed or canceled multiple lease sales, including one off the Virginia Coast which was schedule for 2011 and is now delayed indefinitely.
Mr. Obama’s energy policies, Mr. Hastings said, have destroyed jobs, caused a decline in U.S. oil and natural gas production and harmed local economies.
“Announcing a scheduled lease sale that doesn’t open any new areas for energy production and that should have happened a year ago shouldn’t be a ‘major announcement,’” Mr. Hastings said. “Unfortunately, President Obama seems to be in full campaign mode, taking credit for inherited energy success of his predecessors and attempting to create underserved fanfare for routine offshore energy lease sales that do not open any new areas of energy production.”
But the Obama administration stands by the sale as a significant accomplishment, arguing that the nation’s drilling plans often change over time and the one-year delay was a necessary precaution after the BP disaster.
The Department of Interior has imposed minimum lease requirements and escalated rental rates on the sale in order to encourage prompt exploration and development of areas leased, according to a senior administration official.
The lease sale in the central Gulf, which will take place in June, follows another the administration held for the western Gulf in December, in which more than a million acres were leased.
“The lease sale the president announced today, which could produce 1 billion barrels of oil and 4 billion cubic feet of natural gas, is only the most recent step taken by the Obama administration to continue to expand production, and the numbers speak for themselves,” White House spokesman Clark Stevens said in a statement. “Under this administration, oil and gas production has increased each year, and last year we produced more oil in the U.S. than at any time since 2003.”
President Obama took credit for the the expanded drilling opportunities as well as the completion of a highway corridor for vehicles that run on natural gas during a speech at a UPS shipping headquarters in Las Vegas. He also touted his administration’s success in raising fuel-efficiency standards and promoting more fuel-efficient vehicles.
“We need a all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every source of American energy — a strategy that’s cleaner and cheaper and full of new jobs,” he said in front of a backdrop of large trucks displaying the UPS logo.
The focus on energy came just days after Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail roundly criticized Mr. Obama’s rejection of the Keystone pipeline project that would have carried Canadian tar sands oil from that country to Texas refineries.
Any mention of the Keystone issue was conspicuously absent from the president’s remarks.
The areas of the Gulf the administration is opening were part of an offshore drilling plan for 2007-2012 that President Bush first designated for drilling.
But after the BP oil spill, Mr. Obama decided to delay the lease sales in order re-evaluate the country’s plans for offshore exploration and production and the environmental risks that accompany it.
Later Thursday, the president spoke at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado, where he praised the use of clean energy by the Defense Department. The Air Force is installing a 1-megawatt solar array on the base and tested jets last year powered by advanced biofuels.