Top US energy senator urges offshore development

17 November 2008 20:10  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The US must ensure access to domestic onshore and offshore oil and gas resources even as policymakers move the nation toward greater reliance on renewable fuels, the top Senate energy authority said on Monday.


Senator Jeff Bingaman (Democrat-New Mexico), chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said his plans for broad-based energy and climate legislation in the next Congress “must assure an adequate supply of conventional energy resources”.


He called for a comprehensive inventory of US energy reserves in outer continental shelf (OCS) regions off the country’s east and west coasts, previously closed to energy development by a 27-year-old congressional drilling ban that expired on 1 October.


Bingaman’s support for development of US offshore energy reserves addresses a major concern of the country’s petrochemicals industry and their customers, who have long argued for greater access to what may be major oil and gas deposits off the US Atlantic and Pacific coasts.


The US chemicals sector is heavily dependent on natural gas as a feedstock and energy fuel and has seen gas prices increase four-fold since 1999 while Congress maintained the drilling ban along the country’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts.


In his first major policy speech since Democrats expanded their majority control in both the US Senate and House of Representatives in the 4 November elections, Bingaman said that offshore development “in an environmentally responsible way” must be part of energy and climate control legislation the next Congress is certain to consider in 2009.


Citing the election of Democrat Barack Obama as the next US president, Bingaman said that “we now have a real opportunity to deal with energy issues in the 111th Congress, and President-elect Obama has made a strong commitment to solve these energy issues”.


Bingaman said an energy bill that he plans to craft when the new 111th Congress convenes in January must include the deployment of clean energy technologies, greater energy efficiencies in the industrial, transportation and housing sectors and more federal funding for energy innovation research.


He said that there also must be more transparency in energy trading “and a balance between energy and environmental issues, especially in terms of global warming”.


Part of that balance, he said, must include “adequate supplies of conventional energy resources”.


“Our pursuit of clean energy technology and greater energy efficiency does not mean that we can ignore existing energy resources,” Bingaman said.


“As we transition to renewable energy, we have to ensure that we have provided onshore and offshore energy development in an environmentally responsible way,” he added.


“A good next step would be for Congress to provide for an inventory of energy resources in the OCS areas,” Bingaman said.  Such an inventory was authorised by Congress in a 2005 energy bill but was never given federal funding.


“We need to do that inventory so that we know what is there to inform policy making,” he said.  “We need a stable political consensus on offshore development so that it is not reversed every couple of years.”


No seismic surveys of energy resources off the US east and west coasts - long thought to be substantial - have been conducted since the 1970s, well before modern three-dimensional subsea technology was available.


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By: Joe Kamalick
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