Crit­ics hit Obama’s en­ergy move

Oil pro­duc­tion ‘ta­per­ing off’ at Alaska in­let cited for drilling

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY SU­SAN CRAB­TREE

Pres­i­dent Obama’s re­cent in­vi­ta­tion to open an area in Alaska to en­ergy drilling is play­ing to poor re­views from in­dus­try lead­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tion crit­ics, who say the move is an at­tempt to mis­lead the public about the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s will­ing­ness to open fed­eral lands to more oil and gas pro­duc­tion.

Over the week­end dur­ing a brief re­fu­el­ing stop in Alaska on the way to the nu­clear sum­mit in Seoul, Mr. Obama is­sued a re­lease invit­ing in­dus­try in­put on an oil and gas lease sale in Alaska’s Cook In­let.

“To­day’s an­nounce­ment is part of our com­mit­ment to in­creas­ing safe and re­spon­si­ble do­mes­tic oil and gas pro­duc­tion as part of an all-of-the­above en­ergy strat­egy for Amer­ica,” said Sec­re­tary of the In­te­rior Ken­neth L. Salazar. “We will con­tinue to sup­port ef­forts to safely ex­pand off­shore oil and gas ex­plo­ration, us­ing the best sci­ence to as­sess where re­cov­er­able re­sources lie and pro­vid­ing in­dus­try with abun­dant op­por­tu­nity to lease and de­velop ar­eas that con­tain those re­sources.”

But the Cook In­let, off the coast of South-cen­tral Alaska is the old­est oil field in the state, dat­ing back to the early 1960s, and in­dus­try or­ga­ni­za­tions are ridi­cul­ing the move as an at­tempt to try to dress up an old leas­ing area the in­dus­try has had lit­tle to no in­ter­est in drilling in for years. In fact, two pre­vi­ous Cook In­let sales in 2009 and 2011 were ei­ther can­celed or put on hold be­cause of lack of in­dus­try in­ter­est.

“Oil pro­duc­tion has been ta­per­ing off there — that’s true for any old oil field,” said Ben­jamin Cole of the in­dus­try-funded In­sti­tute for En­ergy Re­search. “It’s not eco­nomic for the in­dus­try to put oil wells there.”

Mr. Cole com­pared the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s lease sale of­fer in the Cook In­let to a used-car dealer of­fer­ing a 1962 Ford with 350,000 miles on it.

“It may be a good car, may have been a good car for all those peo­ple who learned to drive on it, but it may not make eco­nomic sense to lease it again,” he said.

A spokesman for the House Nat­u­ral Re­sources Com­mit­tee said the panel would not have an of­fi­cial re­sponse but ar­gued this “lat­est po­lit­i­cal move is re­ally much ado about noth­ing.”

The Cook In­let lease sale was part of Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s 2007-12 plan for drilling in the outer con­ti­nen­tal shelf, which the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion can­celed and then de­layed com­ing up with its own five-year pro­posal un­til last year.

“This is an­other case of Pres­i­dent Obama can­cel­ing a lease sale that was sched­uled by a pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion and then try­ing to take credit for pos­si­bly al­low­ing it to hap­pen,” said com­mit­tee spokesman Spencer Ped­er­son. “Also, the Cook In­let is mostly nat­u­ral gas, so if the ad­min­is­tra­tion is us­ing this to dis­tract Amer­i­cans from notic­ing gaso­line prices have dou­bled un­der Pres­i­dent Obama, House Repub­li­cans have a list of places we would sug­gest the ad­min­is­tra­tion open for Amer­i­can oil pro­duc­tion to help lower prices at the pump.”

A Depart­ment of In­te­rior spokes­woman de­clined to com­ment on the claims about the Cook In­let, but pointed to an In­te­rior Depart­ment es­ti­mate that the area could con­tain more than 1 bil­lion bar­rels of undis­cov­ered oil and 1.2 tril­lion cu­bic feet of nat­u­ral gas.

The same re­port es­ti­mated an­other area off Alaska, the Chukchi Sea, could con­tain an es­ti­mated 15.4 bil­lion bar­rels of oil and 76.8 tril­lion cu­bic feet of nat­u­ral gas.

Cono­cophillips Alaska op­er­ates the Ke­nai liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas ex­port ter­mi­nal in the Cook In­let Area and has expressed in­ter­est in the drilling in the In­te­rior Depart­ment’s lat­est lease sale op­por­tu­nity.

In con­trast, oil com­pa­nies jumped at the chance to drill in the Chukchi Sea when the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fered a lease sale for a por­tion of it in 2008.

But more than a dozen en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions have tried to de­rail drilling in the Chukchi Sea sched­uled to start in July by chal­leng­ing the drilling plans of com­pa­nies such as Royal Dutch Shell in court.

Sab­rina Fang, a spokes­woman for the Amer­i­can Petroleum In­sti­tute, says the in­dus­try has only mar­ginal in­ter­est in the Cook In­let and would much pre­fer to see more per­mit­ting op­por­tu­ni­ties in the Chukchi Seas, as well as Beau­fort Sea, an­other area off North­ern Alaska, which is home to one of the largest colonies of Bel­uga whales.

“Leas­ing in ar­eas that have been avail­able for years is not the for­ward-think­ing en­ergy pol­icy needed to in­crease fu­ture en­ergy se­cu­rity,” Ms. Fang said. “If the ad­min­is­tra­tion was se­ri­ous about Alaska oil and gas ex­plo­ration, then they would sched­ule lease sales in these ar­eas be­fore 2015 and 2016.”

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