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Energy Bill Debate Highlights Phantom Restrictions on Domestic Oil and Gas Exploration

Thursday, April 14, 2005

During debate over the energy bill in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Tuesday, Representatives Hall, Green, Murphy, Rogers, Pickering, and Committee Chair Barton, among others, voiced their opposition to any restrictions on future oil and gas exploration within the United States. The committee majority shot down a number of minority amendments, including an amendment by Rep. Stupak of Michigan to prohibit directional, slant, or offshore oil and gas drilling on the Great Lakes. Although Rep. Rogers of Michigan opposed the amendment because he felt the states had already dealt with the issue, others criticized Rep. Stupak’s attempt to prevent drilling in the first place. “I don’t think we should be closing off areas to production,” stated Rep. Pickering of Mississippi. Rep. Pickering added that oil and gas companies need more access to public lands, not less, in order to increase the energy supply of the United States.

According to a recent report by the Environmental Working Group, Rep. Pickering is dead wrong in his assessment of extractive industry access to public lands. This report claims that oil, gas, and mining interests have been gaining access for the past fifty years. Furthermore, when past and current exploration leases are combined, the extractive industry has controlled or currently controls land that is within five miles of 95% of all national parks, wilderness areas, national forests, and other national treasures.

If oil and gas companies already have access, why aren’t energy prices going down? The EWG report shows that the amount of fossil fuels that are economically recoverable from these natural areas is so small that it has had no significant effect on domestic oil and gas prices. Thousands of land leases remain untouched because the prices of oil and gas are not high enough to justify the cost of exploration, from an industry perspective. We can either wait for the extractive industry to destroy our national treasures as energy prices go through the roof, or we can reduce energy consumption and invest in renewable energy sources while simultaneously protecting our most cherished American wildlands.