WASHINGTON, April 16 (UPI) -- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing Wednesday on the Obama administration's Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022.
The U.S. Interior Department released a draft proposal in January for access to federal waters for exploration and drilling. While an Atlantic Ocean area was included for the first time, the proposal was met with frustration by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, as the proposal came on the heels of the closure of parts of Alaska's wilderness area to energy companies.
"The Obama Administration often touts that it is committed to promoting oil and gas production on federal lands, including the Outer Continental Shelf," said Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn, R-Colo. "However their draft five year lease plan contains the lowest number of lease sales in history and it can only get worse because there is no guarantee that even those few sales will remain in the final plan."
The draft proposal includes 14 potential leases: 10 in the Gulf of Mexico, three offshore Alaska and one in the Atlantic.
"The Obama Administration's five-year leasing plan reveals once again that its goal is not to increase energy security, despite its claims to the American people," said Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah. "Assuming all the leases even make it to the finalized plan, which is doubtful given this Administration's track record, this proposal has the lowest number of lease sales since the program's inception and contains extensive buffer zones which take valuable resources off the table for years."
North Carolina Governor Pat McRory testified that states "can't afford to potentially squander millions of dollars in preparation for a frontier industry that has the potential to be shut down at any time by the federal government."
"Virginia has been asking for offshore leasing and exploration for the last decade, and this lease sale presents a tremendous opportunity," said Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va. "There is broad bipartisan support for opening the Atlantic OCS for oil and gas development, as the Commonwealth stands to gain 25,000 jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity."
Critics of the plan include Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who said threats from Atlantic energy work may have "catastrophic" impacts on the region and his state, which depends heavily on coastal tourism.
The National Ocean Industries Association, an industry group lobbying for more offshore work, said about 1.34 million barrels of oil equivalent per day could be produced from the Atlantic basin by 2035.
Advocacy group Oceana instead found an offshore wind energy sector in the Atlantic could produce more energy than those reserves while creating about 91,000 jobs, which it says is about double what would come from regional offshore oil and gas work.
Daniel J. Graeber contributed to this report.