In late June, the U.S. Department of the Interior released its long-awaited outer continental shelf leasing plan, which effectively blocks offshore oil and natural gas exploration in any new areas for the next five years. Unfortunately, the proposal is a step backward in our effort to achieve energy independence. Under the plan, 85 percent of America’s OCS would be off-limits at a time when exploring every possible energy source is critical to boosting our nation’s economy and creating jobs.
Instead of finding out what might be available to us in expansive unexplored areas off our coasts, we will be left to search for oil and natural gas in the same, relatively small portion of the OCS we’ve been exploring for four decades. Not only does this plan run counter to President Barack Obama’s “all of the above” strategy for energy independence, but it shows an outright disregard for the requests of the Gulf Coast states –— including Louisiana — to increase domestic oil production when the Interior Department released a draft of the plan late last year.
Interestingly, the Interior Department chose to release this latest version of the OCS plan on the day the Supreme Court announced its health care decision — a thinly veiled attempt to bury it in news coverage of the ruling. But that didn’t keep right-thinking lawmakers from taking notice and working on ways to get America’s economy going using sound energy policies.
U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House Natural Resource Committee, has written legislation that sensibly revises the plan. While the Interior Department’s plan is to hold just 12 oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico, and three in offshore Alaska from 2012 to 2017, the Hastings plan would schedule 28 lease sales total, dramatically increasing drilling opportunities off the Alaskan coast and including a sale of offshore leases in a potentially rich area off the coast of Virginia.
The United States is producing more oil and natural gas than ever thanks to increased production on state-owned or private land. However, production on federal onshore land is down 14 percent in the last two years, and down 17 percent on federal offshore areas. Imagine what could happen if we enact legislation that allows us to open new offshore areas.
The House of Representatives has passed bipartisan legislation that would amend the leasing plan and open new offshore areas to exploration and production. The focus now shifts to the Senate where there is bipartisan support for new access. Let’s hope common sense prevails and the Senate is able to act in similar manner. That will help steer the U.S. toward energy independence and to create the kind of jobs that are the backbone of a strong economy.
Bill New, president
New Industries Inc.