US to hold hearings on offshore oil and gas drilling

11 March 2009 21:19  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Federal officials said on Wednesday they will hold a series of four public hearings in April in major US coastal cities to get public comment on how to develop the nation’s potentially vast offshore energy fields.

The Department of the Interior (DOI) said it will hold public sessions in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on 6 April; New Orleans, Louisiana, on 8 April; Anchorage, Alaska, on 14 April; and in San Francisco, California, on 16 April.

In advance of those hearings, the department said it will issue on 30 March a comprehensive report on what oil and natural gas resources might be recoverable in US outer continental shelf (OCS) regions.

Approximately 85% of those offshore areas were closed to oil and gas drilling for 27 years under a congressional moratorium that was allowed to expire in September last year.

The US petrochemicals industry is heavily dependent on natural gas as a feedstock and has long advocated broad energy sector access to what are believed to be major oil and gas resources in the OCS.

In the closing days of President George Bush’s administration, the department’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) issued a new five-year plan for developing energy resources in parts of the US offshore regions along the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines.

However, shortly after President Barack Obama took office in January this year, the Interior Department put the Bush development plan on hold for six months, extending the public comment period to 21 September.

The department said it wanted to get more public input on offshore production potential and drilling, including potential environmental impacts.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) quickly welcomed on Wednesday the department’s plan for public hearings, saying that the US needs an informed policy that recognises the major role that oil and gas will continue to play in the nation’s energy requirements for decades to come.

API President Jack Gerard said he looks forward to seeing the department’s OCS study “because it will show that America has vast untapped offshore oil and natural gas resources that could be produced safely to put this country’s economy back on its feet and create more jobs”.

Gerard also argued against plans by the Obama administration and some in Congress to impose additional taxes on oil and gas producers, warning that greater tax burdens will discourage domestic energy development and drive up fuel costs.

Many environmentalists, members of Congress and some coastal state officials want to re-impose an offshore drilling ban.

Details of the Interior Department’s four hearings and the process for submitting comments are available on the agency’s Web site.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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