House GOP Seeks to Reverse Rising Gas Prices, Questions Obama’s Commitment on Domestic Exploration

By Fred Lucas | March 30, 2011 | 3:59 AM EDT

House Natural Resources Committee chairman Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), center, is joined by colleagues Tuesday in announcing three separate bills which he said would expand offshore energy production to create jobs, lower energy costs and lessen American dependence on foreign energy. (Image: House Natural Resources Committee)

Washington ( – Because of the Obama administration’s actions, 2011 will be the first year since 1958 that the federal government will not have held an offshore energy lease sale, according to the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee.

The committee will be holding a hearing Thursday on the rising gas prices. Meanwhile, committee chairman Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) is pushing three bills aimed at curbing costs by increasing domestic production.

The Obama administration has touted its policies as boosting domestic energy production, but Hastings said Tuesday that has not been the case.

“Frankly the actions of this administration are 180 degrees – and I don’t say that lightly – 180 degrees from what his words are,” he said during a speech at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

“For example, he talks about more exploration. That fact is what he has essentially done, without saying it, is put a moratorium on the Pacific coast, the Atlantic coast and parts of Alaska and parts of the Gulf of Mexico. So we’re back to where we were in 2008.”

One of Hastings’ bills would require the Interior Department to conduct oil and natural gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore Virginia. They were approved during the Bush administration but have been delayed or cancelled by the Obama administration.

After the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill last year, the administration enacted a drilling moratorium from May to October. Although there were 52 permits for drilling in May – 33 of which were actively working – the administration has only authorized six of those projects to get back to work.

A separate proposal by Hastings would require the administration to act immediately – either for or against – the pending permits in the Gulf of Mexico. A federal judge has held the Department of Interior in contempt for slow walking the permit process.

The six-month moratorium cost up to 12,000 jobs, while the unhurried process after the official moratorium was lifted has seen 12 oil rigs leave the gulf for other regions of the world.

Hastings’ third bill would require the administration to establish a five-year leasing plan that targets areas with the greatest known gas and oil reserves.

“This, I think in the long term will make us less dependent on foreign resources, and I think that’s where we ought to be, especially observing what’s going on in the Middle East right now,” Hastings said.

“Nobody knows what’s going to happen there. But we do know this: That’s an area where there is a lot of energy and as a result, that’s why there is so much fluctuation in price. It just seems from a national security standpoint, we ought to not ignore an obvious fact: Energy jobs are good paying jobs.”

President Obama has stated that his administration has promoted domestic exploration and drilling to keep gas prices down and promote energy independence.

At a March 11 news conference, Obama said “any notion that my administration has shut down oil production might make for a good political sound-bite, but it doesn’t match up with reality.”

Heather Zichal, the deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, said in a statement this week that the Department of the Interior has worked with the oil industry to ensure it meets the new standards and has issued 39 permits for new shallow-water wells.

“In February, oil companies were finally able to develop the first deepwater containment systems – designed to contain spills if the worst happens, as it did in the case of the Deepwater Horizon,” Zichal said.

“Based on that ability – evaluated on a case-by-case, permit-by-permit basis –since February 28th, DOI has issued six deepwater drilling permits. Each permit needed to comply with all of the new standards, including demonstrating that they could contain an underwater oil spill like the one that released 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico just last year.”

In 2010, the Bureau of Land Management held 33 oil and gas lease sales covering 3.2 million acres, Zichal said. However, that was still a decrease from the 38 lease sales in 2008, according to a fact sheet from the House Natural Resources Committee.

In 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated that U.S. oil production on federal lands would total 850 million barrels in 2010. However, under the Obama administration, the actual production on federal lands today is 714 million barrels, 16 percent lower than the projected amount.

The EIA published new projections this month showing that total U.S. crude oil production, which stood at 5.5 million barrels a day in 2010, will decline by 110,000 barrels a day in 2011 and by a further 130,000 barrels a day in 2012.