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Lawmaker Says Offshore Windmills Bigger Threat than Platforms

September 14, 2009
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The Obama administration's belief that the East Coast has the potential to generate 1,000 GW of wind power would necessitate the installation of 300,000 windmills offshore, or 166 windmills per mile from Maine to Florida, and could pose more of a threat to the environment than offshore oil and natural gas drilling, said the ranking member of a House Natural Resources subcommittee last Wednesday.

"Do you realistically think that 300,000 windmills have less [an] environmental impact than some drilling rigs, maybe a few hundred?" Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) asked a Sierra Club official.

"We do think that offshore wind is a better prospect for the Outer Continental Shelf [OCS] than offshore drilling," countered Ethan Manuel, director of the lands protection program for the Sierra Club.

Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA), chairman of the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee, asked Manuel -- who backs increased renewable fuels production and energy efficiency over oil and gas production -- how Congress should finance the transition to a green economy.

"I think that's one of the reasons [why] we support cap-and-trade legislation," Manuel said. Under cap-and-trade, polluting companies would eventually pay the federal government for emission allowances, which would be a windfall for the U.S. Treasury.

"My problem with I just don't see anywhere in Europe or elsewhere where it's worked successfully," Costa said.

Producers recognize the need for more renewable fuels and efficiency, but increased access to the OCS is at the top of their wish list, said Doug Morris, group director of upstream and industry operations for the American Petroleum Institute (API). "Oil and gas is the lifeblood of the nation's economy and is vital to our energy security, and this [will] be the case for decades to come."

He said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar now has the opportunity to open the portions of the OCS that have been closed to drilling for decades. "He should do so by moving forward in a timely manner with the draft proposed five-year leasing plan" for the federal offshore.

In mid-February the Obama administration took steps to put on hold the five-year offshore leasing plan (2010-2015) that was issued in the final days of the Bush administration (see NGI, Feb. 16). Shortly afterward Salazar told a Senate panel that he expected the department to have a revised five-year plan for OCS leasing ready by September 2010 or possibly earlier (see NGI, March 23).

If he had to choose, Morris said, he supported the Obama administration opening the eastern Gulf of Mexico (GOM) first to producers because it already has the necessary infrastructure, which would allow production to come online more quickly. He further said the API did not oppose the use of OCS royalties to fund green energy projects. And, Morris added, "we do support revenue sharing with the states if they participate in OCS development."

Both Morris and Manuel appeared before the subcommittee to testify about a House bill (HR 2227) that would direct federal revenues from expedited review of offshore oil and gas leases and sales to fund clean energy and energy efficiency measures (see NGI, May 11).

The legislation, sponsored by Reps. Tim Murphy (R-PA) and Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), calls for expedited review of leases and sales for offshore oil and gas exploration, and the dedication of the anticipated $2.2 trillion in federal revenues from these activities to finance clean energy and energy efficiency initiatives, including alternative fuels; the development of clean coal technology; the disposition and recycling/reprocessing of nuclear waste; and weatherization programs and conservation tax credits.

"We agree with the goals of this legislation. However, we think the best path to enhance America's energy through renewable energy and energy efficiency programs," said Sierra Club's Manuel. "We do not think that supporting new offshore oil and gas drilling, especially in the areas that had been protected by the previous congressional moratoria, should be included in any energy legislation that moves through Congress this year.

"We still see an industry that, despite its best intentions and improvements in technology, is...plagued by routine pollution and dramatic spills," Manuel said. During hurricanes Katrina and Rita, he said, nine million gallons of oil were spilled from onshore and offshore operations. The storms caused more than 120 spills in the GOM, he noted.

API's Morris countered that the oil and gas has an "excellent environmental record."

In a letter last Tuesday to Costa, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) expressed its support for HR 2227. "Natural gas well productivity has been declining in recent years...and depletion rates for older oilfields are also on the rise. It is therefore imperative that Congress continue to do all it can to increase exploration and production of new, domestic oil and natural gas," ACC President Cal Dooley wrote.

Natural gas is one of the building blocks for the products of American chemistry, which include energy-efficient insulation, lightweight vehicle parts, wind turbines, solar panels and lithium-ion batteries, he said.

Moreover the climate change legislation, which has cleared the House (HR 2454) and will be considered in the Senate, "[will] dramatically increase America's demand for natural gas," Dooley noted. "These new natural gas requirements -- created by Congress -- are additional proof of why Congress needs to expand the base of domestic natural gas supply. If Congress chooses to legislate a need for more natural gas, as it has done in HR 2454, then it simply must also legislate increased domestic energy supplies."

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