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Boren: House Caucus Seeks Gas Component to Jobs Bill

Passing the jobs package with a major natural gas component by the end of the year would be a "home run" for the entire Congress, said Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK), co-chair of the House Natural Gas Caucus, last Thursday.

"I think this is our opportunity" to include the NAT GAS Act measure in the jobs bill and "create 500,000 new jobs in the natural gas industry," he told industry executives and regulators at the Natural Gas Roundtable in Washington, DC. The NAT GAS bill (HR 1835), which seeks to establish a sustained market for natural gas vehicles (NGVs) and rein in gas market volatility, is sponsored by Boren, Rep. John Larson (D-CT) and Rep. John Sullivan (R-OK).

"We can have the [NAT GAS Act] passed...we can get it in the jobs bill," he said. With the health care measure now behind it for the most part, the House is expected to move a jobs-creation bill before the end of the year.

"If we could get something done before the end of the year, what a home run it would be" for Congress, said Boren, whose district in Oklahoma includes the Woodford Shale play.

Boren had some "good news" for producers: the newly formed House caucus is working closely with Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), who has been at the forefront of the movement in Congress to regulate hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracing) at the federal level (see NGI, June 15). "She's been very good to work with...open-minded," he noted, adding that DeGette is one of the 60 members of the caucus.

The House caucus, which is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, is now larger than many of the committees in Congress, said Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), caucus co-chair. His district includes the Marcellus Shale play. He noted that the goal of the caucus is to have 150 members.

Boren said he is confident that a two-year Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study, which was approved by Congress in an Interior spending bill, will not uncover anything startling about the impact of hydrofracing on water sources. "I can sleep very well at night knowing that the results are going to say exactly what we've been saying for a long time -- that there is no problem with hydraulic fracturing," he noted (see related story).

"We don't want natural gas pushed out. We want to be [at the] forefront...We are passionate about this," said Murphy, referring to the caucus' dedication to promoting natural gas.

Natural gas, combined with a menu of other energy issues, "is the Apollo Project of our generation," he said.

But "we have to make sure that in support of natural gas we're not squabbling with other energy sources," Murphy said. If "we say we're better than you...then we create enemies amongst us. We have to promote the use of natural gas on its own merits, and there's lots of merits out there."

Eventually, "we want to be in a position that when the administration or someone else has an energy issue, we want them to come to our caucus" to seek support, said Murphy. "We have not sat down with the [House] leadership" yet, he said, adding that the caucus still is in the "building phase."

With respect to congressional proposals that could impact the hedging of natural gas derivatives, Murphy said, "I'm [of] the belief that we don't put our hands directly on that...I'm not a believer [in] getting directly involved in the marketplace...I think that's where Congress should have its hands off, " Murphy said. He believes, however, lawmakers should actively promote the exploration of natural gas.

"I want to protect people who have skin in the game," Boren said. "There's a difference between actually having a physical product...and somebody shuffling papers in New York City that never actually has skin in the game."

Before moving to raise taxes on producers, Murphy believes the Obama administration should consider taking a cue from Pennsylvania. "In Pennsylvania what they did when they were facing a budget deficit, they [the state] wanted to tax natural gas. But the natural gas folks [came] and said if you let us drill in the state parks or Allegheny National Forest...here's what the state will receive in revenues on state land, and here's what you'll start seeing in income taxes," he said. Pennsylvania ultimately changed its mind about taxing natural gas and instead leased more land to producers (see NGI, Oct. 12).

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