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EIA Says Sweeping Energy Bill Won't Make Much Difference

The sweeping energy bill passed by Congress last week will have only a "modest impact" on energy production, imports, oil prices, overall energy consumption and economic growth, according to a new analysis released by the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The EIA concludes that the broad energy measure would provide little improvement to natural gas production through 2025, with productive output climbing to 22.5 quadrillion Btu in 2025 from 21 quadrillion Btu in 2010. Its sees gas imports spiraling to 9 quadrillion Btu in 2025 from 4.9 quadrillion Btu in 2010, but with the energy bill (HR 6) having little to do with that growth. Similarly, it sees only marginal reduction in energy consumption and wellhead natural gas prices over that period.

The "largest impacts" would have come from the opening of the coastal plain of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for oil and natural gas drilling, said the statistical arm of the Department of Energy (DOE), but that provision was struck from the energy bill in the final days of negotiations in order to get the measure through the Senate.

However, ANWR is not dead. The issue is likely to be raised as part of the budget reconciliation process when the Senate returns from its month-long recess after Labor Day. The Senate budget blueprint directs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to come up with a way to save $2.4 billion. The panel is expected in September to report back legislative language that authorizes exploration in the Arctic refuge. The ANWR issue would face better odds of being passed by the full Senate, given that budget issues cannot be filibustered.

If ANWR is eventually opened, the EIA projects that Alaska oil production would be 940,000 barrels per day (154%) higher in 2025, and world oil prices would be approximately 57 cents per barrel lower.

But the net impact of opening ANWR on domestic natural gas production would be "small," the EIA said. "Between 2006 and 2025, cumulative dry natural gas production is projected to be 0.61 trillion cubic feet (0.1%) higher" if producers gain access to ANWR.

"However, not all of this increase is marketed production. The opening of the coastal plain of ANWR to oil and natural gas development is expected to increase natural gas production for lease and plant fuel use, not for marketing to the lower 48 states. Cumulative lower-48 natural gas production is about the same between the two cases [reference case and HR 6 case], and average wellhead prices are only slight lower" in the HR 6 case, it noted.

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