OPINION: We need to keep the money at home in La.

11 14, 2012 by Houma Courier

When slow-moving Hurricane Isaac wreaked havoc on many of our communities with punishing wind and subsequent flood waters, it refocused for us the vulnerability of our coast and the critical need for immediate investments to protect our culturally rich region.

But it also calls to mind that since 1953, more than $210 billion in bonus bids, rental rates and royalties collected from off our shores has been sent to the U.S. Treasury.

Adding insult to injury, host states like Louisiana have, in the past, shared in virtually none of these funds, while 50 percent of the revenues from energy produced on federal lands onshore is retained by those states.

This begs the question that I and many others have been asking for years: Why should energy production in federal waters be treated any differently than energy production on inland federal lands?

That is why I pushed for and passed the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act in August 2006.

This new law starts to address this problem by authorizing energy producing Gulf States to receive 37.5 percent of oil and gas revenues collected from offshore development.

This legislation brought more than $6 million into Louisiana for 2009 alone and will bring in hundreds of millions of dollars beginning in 2017.

GOMESA also opens more than 8.3 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico to energy production, which is estimated to contain 1.26 billion barrels of oil and 5.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Passing this legislation was not easy, as we had to convince many of our colleagues of the national significance of the Gulf Coast, America’s energy coast.

GOMESA is a start but we must do more.

To that end, I recently partnered with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to introduce the Offshore Petroleum Expansion Now Act of 2012, or OPEN Act.

This bill will eliminate the $500 million cap that Congress placed on our revenues in GOMESA.

The OPEN Act would also push the administration to expand its five-year plan for drilling in the OCS, and allow the U.S. to tap into the vast oil and gas potential off our coasts.

While the administration has proposed only 15 lease sales, the OPEN Act includes 26 sales, and it opens up areas in Virginia and Southern California that were not included in the administration’s plan.

According to a 2006 Minerals Management Service report, the OCS contains nearly 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

If we could drill in more places, we would not only send billions more to the Treasury Department to reduce our deficit, we would send hundreds of millions of dollars to Louisiana for our Coastal Master Plan as well as fund similar investments in other states.

It would also create millions of jobs in the U.S.

Like GOMESA, passing the OPEN Act will not be easy.

It will take a lot of hard work to convince our colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers, but it is critically important.

We have the science on our side and increasingly, the political will to stop our wetlands loss and build a world class flood protection system for all of Louisiana.

This will not only protect communities in our state, but the nation’s oil and gas, petrochemical and maritime assets as well.

This fight, however, is not just about our coast and its billions of dollars of critical infrastructure; it is a fight for our culture and a way of life that once lost can never be replaced.

Ours is a culture and a place that is certainly worth saving and I’m not going to stop until we’ve achieved justice for the Gulf.

I ask all in Louisiana to refocus and redouble our efforts to accomplish these goals.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., lives in New Orleans.