The natural gas industry needs to spend more time targeting members of Congress who aren't traditionally viewed as energy-friendly, said a top staff member for Oklahoma Democrat Rep. Dan. Boren Thursday.

"I think there's a misconception [about] the industry in total" in Congress, said Bill Blumenthal, chief of staff for Boren, at the Natural Gas Roundtable in Washington, DC. He believes it's important for the gas industry to bring lawmakers and their staffs to Colorado and Oklahoma, as well as other energy-producing states, to "actually see these rigs" to gain a "better understanding of the industry."

The natural gas industry also should be touting on Capitol Hill the "environmental benefits" of its fuel compared to other fossil fuels, Blumenthal told a wide group of gas executives.

Boren believes "the only way to change minds [in Congress] is to keep the dialogue going," he said. He is trying to find a "middle ground" on energy issues with lawmakers from nonproducing states.

"Congressman Boren is not always the most popular guy in the Democratic Caucus, especially when it comes to his votes on past energy bills," Blumenthal said. Boren was one of only four Democrats to vote against HR 6 in January, going against the wishes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "At a time when we need to be increasing incentives to develop energy domestically this bill did the exact opposite."

HR 6, which cleared the House by 264 to 163, forces holders of flawed 1998-1999 offshore leases to renegotiate their contracts or pay a "conservation of resources fee" before they can bid on future government leases. It also repeals tax breaks for oil and gas producers and eliminates royalty relief for some production in the Gulf of Mexico. The Senate still has not addressed the measure.

For Boren, "energy policy isn't an abstract; it isn't about hypotheticals," Blumenthal said. He noted that Boren's home state of Oklahoma is responsible for 8% of U.S. natural gas production and was second of all states in gas production in 2005. The oil and gas industry also employs 60,000 workers in Oklahoma, making it the largest private industry in the state.

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