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Senate GOP, Dems to Duel over Expanded Domestic Exploration

With crude oil now topping $115/bbl and natural gas prices pressing $11/Mcf, U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and 19 Republican cosponsors are backing legislation to dramatically increase domestic production of oil and natural gas through the unlocking of restricted territories for exploration.

Saying American consumers who are shocked by escalating gasoline prices will demand Congress reassess its opposition to increasing energy production at home, the American Energy Production Act of 2008 (S 2958), introduced Thursday, would expand production offshore and in Alaska. Moratoriums on developing oil shale in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah would be lifted under the legislation. In addition, the bill would allow petitions for leasing activities in the Atlantic and Pacific regions of the Outer Continental Shelf to tap into a potential resource of 14 billion boe. Exploration also would be allowed offshore in a state with a drilling moratorium if the state's governor petitioned to have the moratorium lifted -- an issue that has been debated for several years (see NGI, March 10; June 18, 2007).

"For years now I have been trying to develop more domestic production of oil and gas, and for years, with one exception in the Gulf of Mexico, I have been blocked for political reasons," Domenici said. "Consumers are now paying the price for those years of obstruction. The American people are fed up and I think oil prices at $115 or more a barrel might prompt them to ask Congress to reconsider the prohibitions that keep us from producing our own energy resources."

The New Mexico senator said the bill would "produce up to 24 billion barrels of oil through common sense measures to open up areas offshore and in Alaska for exploration. It will also allow us to develop billions more barrels of fuel through oil shale and coal to liquids technology. This measure will go a long way toward helping us break the cycle of dependence on foreign sources of oil."

If President Clinton had not vetoed exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in 1995, "when oil was $19 a barrel, America would currently be receiving over one million barrels a day from Alaska," he said. Domenici contends that the amount of oil in ANWR could supply New Mexico with fuel for 222 years.

"Congress has spent billions to research and develop clean sources of energy," he said. "I've been a leader in those efforts ,and I will continue to be. However, we must face the fact that no matter what we do, America will still need oil, and without action, an increasingly large portion of that oil will come from unstable regions. With gas prices soaring higher and higher, we must produce more at home, and this bill allows us to do that in an environmentally responsible manner."

Cosponsors of the legislation are Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Wayne Allard (R-CO), John Barrasso (R-WY), Robert Bennett (R-UT), Kit Bond (R-MO), Jim Bunning (R-KY), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Thad Cochran (R-MS), John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ted Stevens (R-AK, John Thune (R-SD), George Voinovich (R-OH), and Roger Wicker (R-MS).

The legislation "is an important step toward a comprehensive, domestic energy policy that is needed for the long-term health of manufacturing and the U.S. economy," said the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). "This new bill would help to diversify our fuel, lower the cost of energy, create jobs and increase America's energy security," said NAM CEO John Engler.

In response, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he is preparing a competing proposal that could come to the floor for a vote by the end of May.

"When it comes to ideas for helping Americans paying more and more every day at the gas pump, Bush Republicans are running on empty," Reid said in response to Domenici's bill. "Their only answer is to drill for more fossil fuels and drill deeper into Americans' pockets to line those of Big Oil.

"After seven years of disastrous policies and distorted priorities, it's time for Republicans to care more about their constituents than their cronies," he said. "It's time they stand up to OPEC and countries that collude to set high oil prices. It's time they stand up to Big Oil instead of giving tax breaks and subsidies to companies that rake in record profits. It's time they stand up to greedy oil traders who manipulate the market. The Bush administration's oil-friendly, anti-environment policies of the past seven years have resulted in one of the greatest shakedowns of American families in our nation's history, and Democrats are committed to reversing them."

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) also blasted the GOP bill. "What we are hearing from the White House and from the Republicans is the same song, same dance: drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," said Murray. "We know we can't drill our way out of this problem."

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