Noting that the United States is facing a natural gas crisis very much like the current flu vaccine shortage, the chairman of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) called on Congress to take up “narrowly focused” natural gas legislation when it returns for a new legislative session in January.

A gas-specific bill will be needed in the event the Senate fails to pass the stalled comprehensive energy measure during the mid-November lame duck session, said John Walker, also president and CEO of Houston-based EnerVest Management Partners LTD., which operates 5,000 oil and gas wells in six states. “We’ve got to first see whether the comprehensive bill is dead in the lame duck session,” he noted.

“My belief is we’re facing a national emergency with natural gas, much like with the flu vaccine,” said Walker, who addressed the IPAA’s annual meeting in Austin, TX, earlier this week.

The IPAA has been “in conversation” with the American Gas Association, pipelines, chemical companies and others who “have been so damaged by our inability to supply more gas” to establish a broad coalition to support natural gas-specific legislation, he said.

In addition, Walker said he discussed a potential bill with Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, at the IPAA meeting Monday. “He said he’s going to continue to pursue comprehensive legislation” during the lame duck session. But if the bill does not pass this year, Barton indicated that he would support a natural gas measure, Walker noted. “He very much understands the crisis we’re in.”

The centerpiece of a gas bill would be to provide producers access in five key areas: East and West Coasts, the eastern Gulf of Mexico, the Rocky Mountains and Alaska, he said. “There’s well over 100 years of supply in those areas.” As for the environmental concerns associated with drilling in the eastern Gulf, Walker noted that Hurricane Ivan produced winds of 140 miles, but “there was no evidence that a single well bore leaked.”

The legislation also would need to address the “terrific regulatory problems” involved with drilling in the Rockies. Specifically, the administration would need more help to move forward expeditiously with permitting and leasing, and with tort reform to eliminate “frivolous” lawsuits by environmentalists, according to Walker.

Lastly, the measure would have to provide financial incentives for unconventional natural gas and deep gas production.

Walker acknowledged that a natural gas bill would have no impact on the current high prices facing gas consumers as the winter heating season begins. He estimated there would not be a measurable improvement in the domestic gas productive capacity for another five to 10 years, if a gas-favorable bill were passed by Congress in the next session.

In the meantime, consumers will have to become more efficient in their gas use, Walker said. “There’s no instant solution.” Some believe that placing more rigorous limits on natural gas futures traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange would help the current situation, but Walker doesn’t see this as the central problem.

“Speculation has an impact on volatility, but it has no impact on supply. We need to focus on the real problems, not minor irritations,” he told NGI.

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