Republicans Point to Falling Oil Production on Federal Lands
By TENNILLE TRACYMarch 7, 2013, 4:54 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON–The nomination of REI Chief Executive Sally Jewell to lead the Interior Department is drawing attention to declining rates of oil and natural gas production on federal lands - a trend Republicans say undermines President Barack Obama's pledge to support all forms of energy production and use.
Statistics from the Congressional Research Service released this week show oil production on federal lands and waters dropped 18% between fiscal year 2010 and fiscal year 2012, which ended Sept. 30, 2012. The report shows natural gas production dropped 28% over the same period.
Production on state and private lands, by contrast, is surging. Oil production rose 33% between fiscal years 2010 and 2012 and natural gas production increased 20%, according to the report.
"We know that we are blessed with amazing reserves and resources on our federal lands," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) said Thursday. "Unfortunately, we haven't seen the level of activity and action that we want on that."
If confirmed as Interior secretary, Ms. Jewell will be in a position to determine which government-owned lands and waters are opened to drilling and which areas are protected.
Congressional Research service report
During her Senate confirmation hearing Thursday, Ms. Jewell said she respected the need to balance domestic energy needs with conservation goals but stopped short of saying whether she was satisfied with current production levels.
"I appreciate that the resources are there and technologies are enabling us to tap them, along with renewables," Ms. Jewell said before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Mr. Obama has said he supports an all-of-the-above approach to energy use that simultaneously promotes fossil fuel and renewable energy production. Obama administration officials didn't immediately comment on the new report by the Congressional Research Service.
CRS, a nonpartisan body that advises Congress, said several factors determine when and where energy production takes place. Geologic formations supplying the largest increases in natural gas, for example, are largely located on nonfederal lands.
A report released last year by the U.S. Energy Information Administration said natural gas production on federal lands has been steadily dropping since at least fiscal year 2003. Oil production reached a multiyear high in fiscal year 2010 and then dropped the following year, the EIA report said.
Kathleen Sgamma, a vice president at Western Energy Alliance, which represents energy companies in Western states, said drillers are increasingly drawn to state and private lands because the federal approval process is expensive and time-consuming.
"It's been cumbersome for decades, but I think it has bogged down even further under the Obama administration," she said.
The degree to which Mr. Obama is responsible for a recent surge in U.S. energy production took center stage during the elections, when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accused Mr. Obama of taking credit for increases in domestic production that largely occurred on areas controlled by states or private citizens. Republicans have since kept up a steady stream of criticism on that front.
Democrats and environmental groups, on the other hand, praise the Obama administration for adopting policies, like fuel-economy standards, that reduce energy consumption and ease U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
The debate over federal production is unlikely to damp Ms. Jewell's confirmation prospects, and Thursday's hearing revealed little reason to believe Republicans will block her nomination. Her resume, which includes time at an oil company and a board seat at a conservation group, has won her supporters on both sides of the aisle.
A brewing battle over the construction of a road in Alaska, however, could end up delaying a vote on Ms. Jewell. Ms. Murkowski, the senior senator from that state, has threatened to put a hold on Ms. Jewell's nomination unless the Interior Department approves the project, which has been held up by environmental concerns.