Obama changes oil permitting system

04 04, 2012 by The Advocate

The Obama administration announced new methods Tuesday to expedite the permitting process for oil-and-gas production on federal lands, but Louisiana congressional Republicans expressed doubts about seeing any progress.

President Barack Obama’s interior secretary, Ken Salazar, discussed the new, online National Oil and Gas Lease Sale System that he said should reduce the review period for drilling permits by two-thirds and speed up the processing of leases.

“As part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy, Interior is committed to expanding safe and responsible oil and gas development on public lands and Indian trust lands,” Salazar said.

“This is another significant step forward in the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce the nation’s dependence on imported oil, spur local economies and create jobs.”

But Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, both said oil-and-gas production on federal lands decreased in 2011.

So Cassidy said he remains a “little skeptical,” especially with the delays of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project, from Canada to Gulf Coast that has raised questions among many in the Obama administration.

“I hope this time policy follows the rhetoric,” Cassidy said Tuesday in a phone interview.

Vitter also wrote a column in The Washington Times this week that lambasted the energy policies of Obama and Salazar while pushing for more domestic drilling.

Among other things, Vitter noted that oil production primarily rose during Obama’s first two years in office because most of the projects were already in the works. Now, Vitter contended, production has begun to dip.

In an email response Tuesday, Vitter said the new steps do not go nearly far enough.

“What Secretary Salazar should focus on is rolling back the bureaucratic regulations they’ve proposed on hydraulic fracturing and other onshore drilling,” Vitter stated.

In his column, Vitter argued that permitting in the Gulf of Mexico is still more than 40 percent below the levels prior to the 2010 BP oil leak.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said in an email statement that she is pleased with Tuesday’s progress.

“This is a good first step toward creating a clear and efficient permitting system for onshore oil and gas development and reflects the massive increase in shale and unconventional production during the last few years,” Landrieu stated.

She added that the Interior Department and the Bureau of Land Management must continue to improve the permitting process to spur energy independence and job creation.

Marylee Orr, executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, cautioned the government must only move forward responsibly and safely with the expedited permitting.

Without the needed “responsible enforcement,” she said Tuesday, other parts of the country will suffer similar disasters because of not heeding the lessons of the BP disaster when 11 people were killed as well as countless wildlife and fisheries.

“It’s frustrating that Obama seems to be blamed for everything,” Orr said.

Within the oil industry, Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, said Tuesday that Obama and Salazar seem to be making a positive step, even if Briggs doubts their motives.

“This is the kind of thing that could help,” Briggs said. “But this is political maneuvering because he (Obama) has taken so much heat for gasoline prices.”

Briggs said some of the current permitting lengths of nearly 300 days are laughable.

As for the ongoing feuding between Salazar and Vitter, the Senate Select Committee on Ethics recently dismissed the ethics complaint against Vitter for previously blocking Salazar from receiving pay raises because of the offshore oil permitting moratorium after the BP leak.

But the committee chastised Vitter in noting that the incident is leading to changing Senate procedures.

“While the Committee found that there was no substantial credible evidence that you (Vitter) violated the law or Senate rules, it did conclude that it is inappropriate to condition support for a Secretary’s personal salary increase directly on his or her performance of a specific official act,” according to the letter signed by committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Vice Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.