Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hastings bills target administration’s offshore policies

US House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said on Mar. 29 that he will introduce three bills aimed at reversing Obama administration offshore oil and gas decisions and policies. “The bills will end the de facto moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico and allow people to return to work, require lease sales to be held that were canceled or delayed by the Obama administration, and lift the administration’s ban on new offshore drilling by directing production to occur in areas with the most oil and natural gas resources,” he told reporters at a press conference.

The bills’ prospects of moving beyond the Republican-controlled House aren’t particularly bright, but they will give members a chance to go on record again about the issue. Many congressional Democrats are saying that the US Department of the Interior’s report on already issued federal leases which aren’t producing or being actively explored, which DOI released as Hastings announced his legislation, justifies so-called “use it or lose it” requirements instead.

“In contrast to the president’s drill nowhere new plan, this is a drill smart plan,” said Hastings. “The majority of Americans support offshore energy production and these bills will allow it to move forward in a safe, responsible, and efficient manner. With thousands unemployed in the Gulf [of Mexico] region and gasoline prices nearing $4/gal, swift action must be taken to reverse course and increase US energy production.”

Two oil and gas industry groups applauded his move. “Bold leadership during these challenging times is necessary to get folks back to work in the gulf and to provide the energy resources so critical to fueling this country’s economic well-being,” said National Ocean Industries Association President Randall B. Luthi. “While much of our attention of late has been appropriately focused on the present day pace of permitting and its impact upon jobs, we are just as concerned with the lack of national policy direction for the future regarding access to the oil and gas resources of the US Outer Continental Shelf.”

Con Lass, senior director of federal relations at the American Petroleum Institute, also welcomed Hastings’s bills. “The energy markets are constantly looking for signals to guide today’s investment strategies for producing tomorrow’s energy. Regrettably, the signals this administration has been sending encourage less investment in future domestic energy production,” he maintained. “Our economy will still need oil and natural gas for decades to come. America must pursue policies that encourage responsible development of our resources instead of relying on imported energy from unstable parts of the world.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

OMSA asks ‘where’s the beef?’ in deepwater drilling permits

In 1984, the Wendy’s fast food restaurant chain hired a retired manicurist named Clara Peller for an advertising campaign in which she visited a competitor’s outlet, ordered a hamburger and, once it arrived, raised the top bun, and bellowed: “Where’s the beef?” The phrase became so popular that Democratic Presidential candidate Walter F. Mondale successfully used it the same year to suggest that rival Gary Hart’s proposals lacked substance. The tactic didn’t work nearly as well when Mondale tried to use it in televised debates with presidential incumbent Ronald Reagan.

Although Mrs. Peller died in 1987, I couldn’t help thinking of her on Mar. 18 when Offshore Marine Service Association President Jim Adams essentially asked the same question after the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement announced that it had approved a third federal deepwater drilling permit since new regulations were imposed following the Macondo well accident and crude oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico last year.

Adams basically said that the new permits which have been issued were for operations already under way when US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar suspended drilling at 32 deepwater wells in the gulf late last spring. “Secretary Salazar is merely allowing existing permit holders to resume their operations,” Adams continued. “This administration has yet to approve a new deepwater exploration proposal submitted in the last 11 months.”

BOEMRE issued the new permit to ATP Oil and Gas Corp.’s Well No. 4 in Mississippi Canyon Block 941 about 90 miles south of Venice, La., where a rig had been on-site in April 2010 to resume drilling which had been suspended the previous July when Salazar imposed his moratorium. The agency said that it approved the new permit after reviewing ATP’s containment capability for the well using the Helix Well Containment Group’s capping stack.

“Secretary Salazar is treating gulf workers like peasants, tossing us work crumb by crumb and expecting us to be grateful,” Adams said. “We're tired of fighting for scraps. We want to get back to work – all of us, not just a handful of crews.”

In a separate response to BOEMRE’s announcement, US Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said that ATP’s receiving the permit was welcome, “but a mere drop in the bucket for where we need to be.” He said that he would continue his hold on US President Barack Obama’s nomination of Dan Ashe to lead the US Fish and Wildlife Service until BOEMRE issues at least 15 deepwater drilling permits and complies with his other requests for answers about the permitting process.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Salazar picks Ocean Energy Safety Advisory Committee lineup

US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the members of the Ocean Energy Safety Advisory Committee, including four representatives from the oil and gas industry, on Mar. 11. The committee will be a permanent advisory body providing critical guidance on improving offshore drilling safety, well containment, and spill response offshore. Salazar created it on Jan. 19 and sought nominations soon after.

The oil and gas industry representatives are Charlie Williams, chief scientist for well engineering and production technology at Shell Oil Co.; Paul Siegele, president of Chevron Energy Technology Co.; Joseph Gebara, senior manager and structural engineer at Technip USA Inc.; and Don Jacobsen, senior vice president for operations at Noble Drilling Services Inc.

Members representing academia are Nancy Leveson, a system safety and process safety professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Richard Sears, a senior science and engineering advisor who was chief scientist at the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling; and Tad Patzek, a professor and chairman of the University of Texas at Austin’s Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering Department.

The group also includes a single member from an environmental organization: Lois Epstein, the Arctic Program director at the Wilderness Society.

Members from the federal government include two experienced, high-level officials: Walter D. Cruickshank, deputy director of the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (who held a similar post when it was the US Minerals Management Service), and Christopher A. Smith, the deputy assistant US energy secretary for oil and gas who leads the Department of Energy’s fossil energy office.

Others may not be as well known, but seem very well qualified: Capt. Patrick Little, commanding officer at the US Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Center; Mathy Stanislaus, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s assistant administrator for solid waste and emergency response; David Westerholm, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s response and restoration office; and Steve Hickman, a geologist at the US Geological Survey.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve just finished reading the latest daily reports from the Washington Nationals’ spring training, but I can’t resist saying that Salazar put some very heavy hitters in this team’s lineup. It will be interesting to see what happens as they take the field and begin to work out.