US resources chief promises more oil and gas

13 May 2009 18:35  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Development of US onshore and offshore oil and gas resources must be part of a comprehensive national energy plan but within the context of environmental protection, the country’s top resources manager said on Wednesday.

Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar told energy and general business executives that in planning the nation’s energy future, “we need a broad portfolio as part of a comprehensive energy plan”.

“That means that nuclear is on the table along with bio, solar and wind power, and we must include oil and natural gas as part of that broad portfolio,” Salazar said.

Salazar and President Barack Obama have been criticised recently by energy industry executives and other business interests who charged that the new administration appears hostile to traditional oil, gas and coal resources while favouring still-developing alternative energy options such as solar and wind power.

US petrochemical and downstream chemical producers, who are heavily dependent on natural gas as a feedstock and energy fuel, have been among manufacturers critical of the Obama administration’s development policies thus far.

Critics have noted that as Interior secretary Salazar, a former senator from Colorado, quickly withdrew previously leased oil and gas development parcels in Utah and suspended a new five-year offshore exploration plan issued in the last days of the Bush administration.

Speaking at an energy conference organised by the US Chamber of Commerce, Salazar said: “I know there has been criticism and controversy about these actions, but in Utah I was obliged to set aside those 77 lease sales because a federal court enjoined those sales and said that the full environmental impact of those leases for nearby national parks and monuments had not been fully assessed.”

“We are going forward with that assessment and those leases have not been pulled back forever,” he said.

He said the decision to suspend the Bush five-year offshore development plan and extend the public comment period for six months was done to ensure full consideration of environmental impact.

Salazar noted that on 17 April the US Appellate Court in the District of Columbia revoked the earlier Bush administration 2007-2012 five-year offshore plan because the court found it too had not given adequate consideration to environmental impact beyond coastal areas.

“That court ruling has put some 2,000 existing leases from the 2007-2012 plan in question because the right environmental review process was not followed,” he said, saying that he has asked the appellate court for clarification of that ruling.

In light of that ruling, he said, the Interior Department must ensure that proper environmental reviews are completed for the pending 2010-2015 offshore plan initiated by the Bush administration.

Salazar defended the Obama administration’s oil and gas development record thus far, noting that the Interior Department recently issued leases on 1.5m acres in the West and 1.7m acres of offshore areas in US waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

“Oil and gas will be part of our comprehensive energy plan, and we will continue to look to find additional places where we can explore for oil and gas,” he said.

He said that over the course of this year his department would put together a new offshore development plan.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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