US Congress eyes major survey of offshore oil and gas

09 January 2009 18:24  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Federal legislation authorising the first seismic surveys in 30 years of potentially vast US offshore oil and gas reserves will be introduced within months, a Senate Energy Committee spokesman said on Friday.

Senator Jeff Bingaman (Democrat-New Mexico), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, soon will introduce a new energy bill that will order a comprehensive survey of US energy resources in outer continental shelf (OCS) regions previously closed to drilling, the spokesman said.

Committee spokesman David Marks said the offshore survey mandate would be part of a larger energy bill that Bingaman and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska - the ranking Republican on the Energy Committee - are now developing.

“Senator Bingaman would like to see some sort of inventory of what’s out in the OCS, a full, funded collection of data,” Marks said.

The US chemicals industry is heavily dependent on natural gas as a feedstock and energy fuel and has long argued for renewed access to OCS energy resources.

The outer continental shelf regions off the US Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in the eastern third of US waters in the Gulf of Mexico have not been surveyed for 30 years or more, according to the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service (MMS).

Surveys of the 200-mile wide OCS regions off the east and west coasts and part of the Gulf were effectively barred by a 27-year-long congressional moratorium on offshore drilling that was allowed to expire on 1 October last year.

Technically, those offshore regions are now open to leasing, but there are many in Congress who would like to see the drilling ban restored, citing potential environmental damage by offshore exploration and development.

Bingaman has voiced support for offshore energy development “in an environmentally responsible way” but says that members of Congress and other policymakers need to know just what resources are in the offshore regions.

“We need to do that inventory so that we know what is out there and to inform policy making,” Bingaman said after the congressional moratorium was ended. “We need a stable political consensus on offshore development so that it is not reversed every couple of years.”

The last seismic surveys of the once-closed OCS regions were done in the late 1970s or early 1980s, according to MMS, before modern three-dimensional subsurface scanning technology was developed.

Marks said that in addition to a survey of energy resources in the OCS areas, the legislation will require a detailed evaluation of environmental factors related to offshore drilling.  He said Bingaman wants to know “the potential impacts on marine life if previous moratorium areas are to be developed”.

The developing energy bill also will call for a national standard for renewable energy use by electric utilities, a major effort to modernise the nation’s power grid, a new clean energy bank to fund or back private sector loans for energy efficiencies, and new policy on use of the strategic petroleum reserve (SPR), Marks said.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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