Official defends drilling policy

05 10, 2012 by The Advocate

The director of the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said Wednesday that the Obama administration’s five-year plan for offshore drilling should be finished by the end of June and that it leans heavily on expanding oil production from the central Gulf of Mexico.

In speaking before the Republican-controlled House Natural Resources Committee, Tommy Beaudreau, who accepted the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management job in September, took criticism Wednesday from some Republicans for alleged drilling delay tactics and for not moving forward with oil-drilling proposals along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

On the other hand, some Democrats were critical Wednesday of President Barack Obama even considering and studying drilling off of the coasts of Virginia and other Atlantic coast states.

Beaudreau touted Obama’s “all-of-the-above energy strategy” that includes renewable energies, while arguing that the 2012-2017 plan focuses on known oil-rich sites.

He said the central Gulf is the No. 1 priority and the “crown jewel” of the nation’s outer-continental shelf with a projected 31 billion gallons of oil or more waiting to be collected.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., criticized the Obama administration for delays with the five-year plan and with accusations of closing access to much of the nation’s natural resources for energy production.

“Now more than ever, with gasoline prices still hovering near $4 a gallon and unemployment above 8 percent, the United States should be doing everything we can to ensure the timely and responsible production of our domestic energy resources,” Hastings said. “Unfortunately, the Obama administration is instead pursuing an agenda that keeps 85 percent of our offshore areas closed to new American energy production.”

Beaudreau responded that the administration has been selling new drilling leases in the Gulf and that another major lease sale is scheduled for June 20. He said the 2010 BP oil leak off of Louisiana’s coast was a “major development” that required the administration to step back and make some reassessments.

Since then, Beaudreau said, private industry has mostly responded well in its efforts to increase safety and improve its well-capping technologies.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., defended Beaudreau and Obama in arguing that the “nefarious” actions of BP required significant changes.

Markey chastised the Republican-led House for not taking up legislation to improve drilling regulations and increase the liability cap. He also noted that overall domestic oil production has increased under Obama.

But U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, was among those who took aim at not authorizing drilling off the Atlantic coast.

“I believe we will find there’s great potential out there,” Landry said.

Beaudreau said the administration is moving forward with environmental impact studies and seismic surveys for Atlantic offshore drilling before deciding whether to move forward.

The latest seismic data is more than 25 years old, he said, noting that the new studies should be done by the end of the year.

“We’re moving forward,” he said, noting that they need to work out concerns from the Department of Defense about possibly upsetting national security and military operations in the Atlantic Ocean.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., said Atlantic drilling should not even be an option when the focus must switch from “dirty fuels” to renewable energies. He warned of another BP incident happening along the eastern seaboard.

But Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, criticized Obama for not opening up the Pacific coast for more drilling offshore of California as well.

“It’s OK to mess up Louisiana’s coast, but southern California, being Democratic, is much more delicate,” Gohmert complained.

As for drilling in Alaska, Beaudreau said applications from Shell to operate in the Alaskan Beaufort and Chukchi seas are still pending. The issue that must still be answered is how good Shell’s deployment of its well-capping system is, he said.