May 14, 2011 2:08 PM by Chris Welty
WASHINGTON (AP) - Facing continued public unhappiness over gas
prices, President Barack Obama is directing his administration to
ramp up U.S. oil production by extending existing leases in the
Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska's coast and holding more frequent
lease sales in a federal petroleum reserve in Alaska.
Obama said Saturday that the measures "make good sense" and
will help reduce U.S. consumption of imported oil in the long term.
But he acknowledged anew that they won't help to immediately bring
down gasoline prices topping $4 a gallon in many parts of the
The oil industry praised Obama's move as a first step but said
much more was needed to boost oil production as part of a broader
"If given access to key shale reserves, if we can get the oil
sands pipeline built that will allow us to import more crude from
Canadian oil sands, and if we can access areas of the US that are
currently off limits, our industry can create over a million new
jobs and generate over $194 billion in revenue," said Erik Milito,
upstream director for the American Petroleum Institute.
Obama's announcement followed passage in the
Republican-controlled House of three bills - including two this
week - that would expand and speed up offshore oil and gas
drilling. Republicans say the bills are aimed at easing gasoline
costs, but they also acknowledge that won't be immediate.
The White House had announced its opposition to all three bills,
which are unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, saying
the measures would undercut safety reviews and open environmentally
sensitive areas to new drilling.
But Obama is adopting some of the bills' provisions.
Answering the call of Republicans and Democrats from Gulf Coast
states, Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address that he
would extend all Gulf leases that were affected by a temporary
moratorium on drilling imposed after last year's BP oil spill. That
would give companies additional time to begin drilling.
The administration had been granting extensions case by case,
but senior administration officials said the Interior Department
would institute a blanket one-year extension.
New safety requirements put in place since the BP spill also
have delayed drilling in Alaska, so Obama said he would extend
lease terms there for a year as well. An oil lease typically runs
Lease sales in the western and central Gulf of Mexico that were
postponed last year will be held by the middle of next year, the
same time period required by the House. A sale off the Virginia
coast still would not happen until 2017 at the earliest. But Obama
said he would speed up environmental reviews so that seismic
studies to determine how much oil and gas lies off the Atlantic
Coast can begin.
To further expedite drilling off the Alaskan coast, where such
plans by Shell Oil Co. have been delayed by an air pollution
permit, Obama said he would create an interagency task force to
coordinate the necessary approvals. He also will hold annual lease
sales in the vast National Petroleum Reserve on Alaska's North
Slope. Officials said the most recent sale was last year, but that
they had not been held on any set schedule.
Republicans dismayed by the lack of progress in Shell's drilling
have drafted legislation to exempt drilling off Alaska from air
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings of
Washington, sponsor of the legislation, said it was "ironic" that
Obama "is now taking baby steps in our direction" after the White
House and congressional Democrats criticized the bills.
"The president is finally admitting what Republicans have known
all along, that increasing the supply of American energy will help
lower prices and create jobs," Hastings said.
Obama also called on Democrats and Republicans to vote to
eliminate billions in taxpayer subsidies to oil and gas companies.
In the weekly Republican message, Alabama Rep. Martha Roby said
it's time for Washington to get serious about the challenges facing
the country, including straightening out its finances and tackling
the gas price issue. She praised the House for passing measures to
expand domestic energy production "because when we're talking
about energy, we're talking about jobs."
"The greatest threat to our economy, job creation, and the
future of our children is to do nothing," Roby said. "We have to
act. It is what we were sent to Washington to do."
21 hours ago