Nominee calls for more oil and gas production on US federal lands

07 March 2013 19:32  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--Sally Jewell, President Barack Obama’s choice to head the Interior Department, told Congress on Thursday that the US can expand oil and gas production on federal lands, but she also said the nation must consider challenges posed by climate change.

In testifying at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Jewell said that “with the help of rapidly advancing technologies, smart policies and a commitment to an all-of-the-above strategy, we can continue to expand and diversify our energy production."

As the top executive at the Department of the Interior (DOI), Jewell would have overall responsibility for authorising development of vast oil and gas resources under federally owned lands.

Jewell, trained as a petroleum engineer and with field experience in drilling and fracking oil and gas wells, noted that “innovative technologies and new frontiers both onshore and offshore are increasing our nation’s domestic oil and gas production, and we owe it to the American people to make sure that development takes place in a safe and responsible way.”

“We also need to provide industry with certainty and clarity when it comes to development, so that they can make smart investments to help power our economy,” she said.

However, the US energy industry and many chemical producers and other gas-dependent manufacturing sectors have complained that in Obama’s first four-year term as president, oil and gas permitting and production on resource-rich federal lands have fallen while the DOI pushed alternative energy projects for solar and wind power.

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the committee, told Jewell that “you need to convince us that you will maintain balance in the various missions and interest of the department.”

“We are looking for your strong commitment to the tenet of multiple use,” Murkowski said.  “We need you to affirm that public lands provide not just a playground for recreational enthusiasts, but also paychecks for countless energy producers, miners, loggers and ranchers.”

Murkowski referred to “broad discontent with the Interior Department”, noting that “despite tremendous resources on federal lands, nearly all gains in energy production have occurred on state and private lands.”

She also said that federal proposals to regulate and limit hydraulic fracturing – the “fracking” technique that is central to newly abundant shale gas development – could threaten to reverse gains that have been made on state and private lands.

Jewell, who most recently has been chief executive of the sport and outdoor recreational outfitter REI Inc, said that she also would be committed to using scientific and land management resources at DOI “to better understand and prepare for challenges” posed by climate change.

“The president has made clear that climate change is an important issue for our nation,” she said.

In his inaugural address in January, Obama reaffirmed his commitment to dealing with climate change, and in his State of the Union speech in February he vowed to take regulatory action on his own if he could not get climate cooperation from Congress.

Some in the US energy and petrochemical sectors have expressed concern that Obama’s renewed focus on climate change could further retard energy production on federal lands and even in the private sector.

Barring any surprises in her confirmation hearings, Jewell is expected to win Senate approval for her appointment as DOI secretary.

By: Joe Kamalick
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