Oil, Gas In Western U.S. Provide Employment and Millions in Revenue, Says Energy Alliance

By Penny Starr | September 9, 2011 | 6:02 PM EDT

Kathleen Sgamma, director of government and public affairs for the Western Energy Alliance.

(CNSNews.com) – At a House hearing to examine how oil and natural gas production on federal lands can be hampered by unnecessary regulations, a witness representing energy companies in the western United States said the industry in that region can provide vast amounts of oil and natural gas and generate thousands of jobs and millions in government revenue.

“Our members are proud to produce 27 percent of America’s natural gas and 14 percent of its oil production while disturbing only 0.07 percent of public lands,” Kathleen Sgamma, director of government and public affairs for the Western Energy Alliance, told lawmakers on Friday at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Natural Resources.

The alliance represents 400 companies engaged in “environmentally responsible” exploration and production of oil and natural gas throughout the West.

“Our Blueprint for Western Energy Prosperity finds that by 2020 we could produce as much oil and natural gas in the West as the U.S. currently imports from Russia, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Algeria, Nigeria, and Colombia combined, while creating an additional 70,000 jobs and $3.5 billion in government revenue,” Sgamma said.

“We hope to achieve that potential if government red tape doesn’t stand in the way,” she said.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, said the government should make it easier for private sector to develop energy resources on federal lands. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

At issue at the hearing was Section 390 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which allows Categorical Exclusions for some oil and natural gas development and production projects on federal lands, a vast amount of which is owned by the government in the western United States.

The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for those lands, described at the hearing by BLM Deputy Director Mike Pool as “located primarily in 12 western states, including Alaska.”

Pool said BLM “administers over 245 million surface acres and approximately 700 million acres of onshore subsurface mineral estate throughout the nation.”

In August, a federal judge ruled against efforts by the Obama administration to increase environmental oversight of oil and gas development on public land in a lawsuit brought by the Western Energy Alliance. The alliance claimed the guidance – or new interpretation – of the law to limit Categorical Exclusions did not follow proper procedure. The judge agreed.

Two Democrats on the subcommittee, ranking member Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) released a letter at the hearing that the lawmakers sent to the Department of Justice complaining about the Categorical Exclusions in the energy law.

The lawmakers state in the letter that before the Obama administration’s guidance in May 2010, the BLM was operating “under a Bush administration policy that has led to serious environmental impacts.”

The lawmakers asked the Justice Department in the letter to appeal the decision in the Western Energy Alliance v. Salazar lawsuit.

But Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), chairman of the subcommittee, said the Categorical Exclusions portion of the energy law benefits the country and its citizens.

(AP photo/Cheryl Gerber)

“In order to lessen our dependence on foreign oil, create jobs for Americans, and secure our energy future, Congress should take steps to streamline the process and enable energy projects to move forward without being subject to bureaucratic delays, costly litigation, and a burdensome permitting process,” Lamborn said. “Categorical exclusions are just one tool Congress has given the Bureau of Land Management to accomplish this goal.”

And, Lamborn added, the Obama administration hasn’t always been opposed to the practice. After the passage of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, the administration used more than 179,999 Categorical Exclusions for projects funded by stimulus money.