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GOP challenges administration on oil production

Says a climate of uncertainty hangs on access to public land

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“[W]e have a problem here,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, says at a hearing about the Obama administration’s record on energy production. (Associated Press)

Every time President Obama takes credit for rising U.S. oil and gas production during his administration, Republicans start rolling their eyes and grinding their teeth.

As the White House confronts criticism on rising gas prices by touting its energy record, Republicans insist the oil and gas boom has come in spite of administration efforts to cordon off access to resource-rich federal lands and limit off-shore development.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, challenged the administration’s record at a subcommittee hearing Wednesday, citing Interior Department figures showing that oil production is down 14 percent on federal lands and 17 percent from federal waters.

The data bolster what Republicans have said repeatedly, that energy companies are relying on state and private lands to fuel the boom. The figures also appear to refute Interior Secretary Kenneth L. Salazar’s statement at a White House briefing Tuesday on the recent increase in gas prices.

“The fact of the matter is that we are producing more from public lands, both oil and gas, both onshore as well as offshore, than at any time in recent memory,” Mr. Salazar said at the briefing.

At a hearing of the Appropriations Committee subcommittee on the Interior, Mrs. Murkowski quizzed Bureau of Land Management director Robert V.Abbey on the discrepancy.

“I understand why the administration is working hard to try to explain what it claims is its record, but we have a problem here,” she said. “The administration’s own data is either wrong or this information has not been adequately communicated to the secretary.”

Mr. Abbey acknowledged that “oil production from onshore federal minerals last year is down from previous years,” but added that federal agencies can do little to influence production once the leases are granted to private companies.

“I will say this, though, where industry decides to produce or to develop is up to them. For example, we have 7,000 applications for permits to drill that are not being drilled,” Mr. Abbey said. “We have over 25 million acres of lands we have leased that are not being developed.”

One reason often cited by administration officials is the fall of natural-gas prices, which has reduced the market incentives for industry to drill on its public leases. But Republicans say the administration has created a climate of uncertainty over access to public lands that has discouraged companies from investing in those leases.

They cite the Obama administration’s 2009 cancellation of the Utah energy leases, the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to overhaul its regional management plans, the proposed cutbacks in acreage available for oil-shale development, its opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, proposed increases in mineral royalties, and the nixing of the Keystone XL pipeline.

“All the impetus is for locking away public lands at a time when we need them the most,” said Sean Paige, editor of Monkey-Wrenching America, a newly launched online publication sponsored by Americans for Prosperity. “There’s a correlation between access to public lands and the price you pay at the pump.”

The president has been promoting his energy stances as surveys show rising prices at the gas pump have eroded his approval rating. Last week, he reiterated his support for ending tax credits on energy development and attacked oil-company profits, though administration critics have asked how ending a subsidy for any product would lower its price or encourage that good’s production.

“We don’t need to subsidize oil companies when they’re doing this well,” Mr. Obama said.

The White House released its “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future” progress report Monday, which found that energy production has increased every year since the president took office in 2009. The use of renewable energy such as wind and solar power has doubled since 2008, the report said.

“The Obama administration continues to take steps to expand domestic production safely and responsibly as part of an all-of-the-above approach to American energy,” Interior spokesman Adam Fetcher said. “Nationwide, domestic oil and gas production has increased each year of this administration, and is the highest that it’s been in eight years.”

About the Author
Valerie Richardson

Valerie Richardson covers politics and the West from Denver. She can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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