Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is hinting at a possible way forward for speeding up and expanding offshore drilling in the United States.
 
The Alaska senator, who is the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, talked with reporters in Washington this week about a way to find common ground on the controversial issue of offshore drilling permits. According to reports, Murkowski is open to the idea of charging oil companies additional fees if those fees lead to speeding up the permitting process for offshore projects. Essentially, Murkowski said that if there was a way those additional fees could go directly to the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, she would be all for it.
 
The permitting process for offshore and onshore drilling has gotten lots of attention in Washington as of late. During President Obama’s address on energy policy, Obama conceded that America needs to increase its domestic energy production but the largest oil companies are not developing all the resources they have at this point. “Right now, the oil companies hold tens of millions of acres of drillable land where they are not producing a single drop,” Obama said. But others contend that the lands that the oil and gas industry have are simply not ideal for oil production, and the permitting process for getting new oil — both onshore and off — takes too long.
 
This back-and-forth discussion is nagged by looming concerns about safety following the Gulf oil spill and as well as the idea of an onshore land-grab by billion dollar oil companies. Those concerns are generally countered by high gas prices and unrest in the Middle East. So it’s easy to see how quickly either side could become entrenched.
 
But Murkowski’s signal this week could be, at least, a sign of a civil way forward. Asking oil companies to pick up the tab for a more nimble permitting process could calm some of the concerns. But one man’s nimble process is another man’s rubber stamp. An offshore deal may seem like a gateway to an onshore deal, which critics may see as a way to increase production, while others see it as a slippery slope to unchecked development.
 

So the questions are, can a middle ground be found, and is Murkowski’s idea a step towards it?

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