GOP Challenges Administration on Oil Production; Says a Climate of Uncertainty Hangs on Access to Public Land

Article excerpt

Byline: Valerie Richardson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

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. …