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Obama Administration Continues its Anti-Drilling Chicanery in Alaska

A case of good cop/bad cop between unaccountable bureaucrats.

Last month, during his weekly radio address, Barack Obama announced his plans to drill in NPR-A.  No-he wasn’t planning to eviscerate his genuflecting media outlet; he was promising to issue more land leases in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

Like most of his capricious gestures to conservative policy initiatives, this promise was vapid of substance and lacking accountability.  He knew all along that his unelected bureaucrats at the DOI and EPA would filibuster every step of the leasing process indefinitely.  It was essentially an administrative pocket veto to preempt any drilling proposals in Alaska.  As such, it is not surprising to hear that his cohorts in these departments are bailing him out of his duplicitous promise.

This 23-million-acre reserve lies to the west of the smaller Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) on the Alaska North Slope.  Although this wilderness, owned by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, was designated in 1976 for the expressed purpose of exploring for oil and gas, it was ostensibly closed to drilling until 1998.  Moreover, environmental lawsuits and bureaucratic obduracy have prevented a single oil well from being developed for the past 13 years.

Accordingly, there was no reason to believe that Obama, the most anti-energy president of all time, would turn NPR-A into a catalyst for drill, baby, drill.  When Obama announced his new leasing policies, I noted that Obama‘s promise to drill in Alaska was yet “another attempt at subterfuge for the purpose of tamping down the outrage toward his job-killing, anti-growth policies”, and that he would rely on his minions at the EPA to “encumber any meaningful drilling policies with endless environmental impact studies.”

Well, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that this is exactly what is now occurring in the NPR-A. The EPA and the Army Corp of Engineers are denying ConocoPhilips a permit to build a bridge, a gravel road, and a pipeline from their proposed drilling sight in the NPR.  To make matters worse, any drilling project in the Arctic requires approval by the EPA.  This has created bureaucratic friction, impelling multiple agencies to impose competing mandates on the drilling applicants:

But Conoco’s project has been stymied in part by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which cited environmental worries in refusing to grant the company a permit to build a bridge, a gravel road and a pipeline over a waterway to its drill site. The project traverses the Colville River Delta, a mosaic of arctic lakes and channels in the far eastern reaches of Alaska’s North Slope.

The project has put two federal agencies at odds. The Environmental Protection Agency has maintained that a roadless alternative, which would route the pipeline under the Nigliq Channel and use an airstrip instead of a road and bridge, would be less damaging to the reserve’s environment. The Interior Department backs Conoco’s proposal as environmentally preferable.

The resulting standoff has left the project’s future in question, infuriating Alaska officials eager for the hundreds of jobs that building the bridge and operating the drill site would bring. Congressional Republicans cited the Corps’ decision in a report last week as evidence the Obama administration is biased against oil and gas development.

So now we have two government agencies play fighting each other as American job creators, job-seekers, and consumers are left out in the cold.  Meanwhile, Alaska’s oil production continues to decline, causing serious damage to the Alaska Pipeline.  What incentive is there for a petroleum company to drill, if they will be taxed, regulated, and litigated for years, even if they desire to drill in harsh, barren tundra?

The WSJ quotes a Conoco spokesman observing that “even if the issue of the Corps permit is resolved, construction on the project couldn’t begin until the company secures an additional bridge permit from the U.S. Coast Guard, and a “small number of other permits that are not viewed as controversial.”

This latest intra-agency sophistry illuminates another problem with Obama’s drilling policies.  Obama incessantly criticizes oil and gas companies for not utilizing their land leases, but fails to mention that the subsequent permitting process is devastatingly cumbersome.  It creates such a costly and unpredictable environment for oil exploration, that all too often; it is no longer worthwhile to pursue land leases in potentially oil-rich parts of the country.  The BLM has issued 6 land leases since 1998, yet not a single well has been drilled in the past thirteen years.  It is the old bait and switch game between leases and permits that is obfuscating the true anti-drilling malevolence of the faceless bureaucrats in the relevant agencies.

Consequently, we must hold Obama accountable on his empty promises and pass Congressman Latta’s energy bill (H.R. 1777).  In addition to opening all major onshore and offshore oil reserves to exploration (including ANWR), this bill would streamline the permitting process by coordinating intra-agency policies, thereby precluding a bureaucratic fiasco of the magnitude that is occurring in Alaska.  The bill would further facilitate auspicious drilling projects by expediting the judicial review process and repealing a number of EPA regulations.  [Full summary here]

House Republicans made some progress yesterday when the Energy and Commerce Committee passed a bill to force the EPA to issue clean-air permits within 6 months of an applicant’s request (H.R. 2021-Cory Gardner).  This was the permit that was denied to Shell Oil, essentially scuttling their plans to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off the northern coast of Alaska.  We need to keep up the momentum and pass H.R. 1777 to expedite all drilling permits.

Call your Congressmen and request that they co-sponsor H.R. 1777 and ensure that Obama keeps his word on expanding drilling permits in Alaska.

It’s enough that he has foreclosed on our future with Keynesian economics; he must be prevented from foreclosing on our energy independence in favor of environmental groups that are deemed too big to fail.  Let’s keep Obama from using the uncountable men behind the curtain of his administration to thwart the will and prosperity of the American people.

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