An industrial consumer group said Monday that it was “alarmed and dismayed” to learn that the Bush administration’s fiscal year 2006 budget plan calls for cuts in funding for programs overseeing minerals management leasing and permitting.

“The United States is in the midst of a natural gas crisis that has cost consumers over $150 billion and there is no end in sight. The U.S. natural gas price is the highest in the world. We urge you to significantly increase, not decrease funding for agencies and programs associated with increasing the supply of natural gas, oil and coal,” Paul N. Cicio, executive director of Industrial Energy Consumers of America, wrote in a letter to the Office of Management and Budget.

“It is particularly essential that we increase supply of natural gas. U.S. natural gas demand exceeds supply capacity which has resulted in prices that have spiked to levels that are three times the average price of the 1990s,” he said. “It now takes three wells to replace the same production volume that once came from one well. This means the volume of activity associated with leasing and permitting will continue to increase and we must have the resources in place to manage it.”

The existing natural gas crisis “can get worse, much worse,” Cicio warned. “The summer of 2004 was on average cooler than normal and the winter, so far, is warmer than normal. Both climate related events have prevented a shortage of natural gas. [But] we cannot afford to count on luck to prevent shortages.”

He noted that both the public and manufacturing sector are looking to the federal government to increase funding for agencies, such as the departments of Interior and Agriculture, that are responsible for leasing and permitting.

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