Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is asking Congress to speed up the process for drilling on public lands. The request was just part of a laundry list of proposals that Salazar unveiled on Tuesday to the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resource Committee. Here’s the rundown:
Salazar wants lawmakers to change the 1920 Mineral Leasing Act so that onshore drilling leases last fewer than 10 years. By shortening the length of each permit, Salazar thinks the government will be able to “encourage more prompt investment in domestic oil and gas development.” Salazar also said the Obama administration should have the authority to charge fees to companies if they don’t develop the wells they are permitted to drill for. This is what many Democrats are calling a “use it or lose it,” policy.
Pass a 'spill bill'
A year after the Gulf oil spill, Salazar called on Congress to address safety issues surrounding offshore drilling. Attempts to do so failed last summer. Salazar first called on Congress to pass what he called “organic” legislation to strengthen the newly created Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Regulation. Salazar said he also wants to eliminate the $75 million cap on economic liability from oil spills and increasing penalties for violating the Interior Department’s offshore drilling standards. He also said he wanted to create a team of experts that could agree on standards and procedures for cleaning up future spills.
Opposition to the 30-day permit plan
But the focus of the day was over speeding up the permitting process. While Salazar was pushing his ideas, he also criticized an alternative plan proposed by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). McConnell’s proposal includes a provision that gives the Interior Department a 30-day window to approve a drilling permit request. It would also extend leases for drilling in the Gulf by one year. Salazar criticized the bill, saying it would “pull the rug out,” from under the Obama administration’s current plans. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Regulation Director Michael Bromwich called McConnell’s plan a “profoundly bad idea.”
Continuing to push for increased production in Alaska
Salazar’s proposals come just days after President Obama called for opening up of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska to drilling. His plan would also open up the Beaufort and Chukchl seas off Alaska where Shell hopes to begin development as soon as 2012. Still, the plan calls for keeping the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge off limits to oil and gas development.
Salazar’s comments and requests come at an interesting time for energy policy. This weekend, the president called for an increase in production, and McConnell’s drilling bill is expected to be up for a procedural vote on Wednesday. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) is reported to be planning votes on two offshore drilling safety bills by Memorial Day. And by that time, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is expected to get a vote on his bill to eliminate government subsidies for the “Big Five” oil companies.