A coalition of 19 Senate Democrats led by Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico has called on Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to take a closer look at several issues surrounding an oil and natural gas lease sale that is scheduled for September in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A).

“We are advised that 2.8 million acres of the NPR-A are already under lease, but only one well was drilled in the past drilling season. We recognize that this situation may be exacerbated by provisions in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which allow lessees to hold federal lands without production for 30 years and permit leases to be joined into large production units,” the senators said in a recent letter to Kempthorne.

“While we appreciate that conditions for development are difficult on the North Slope, we are concerned that these provisions could be implemented by the department [in such a manner as] to allow oil and gas companies to hold leases for lengthy periods without production of the domestic oil and gas resources that Americans need,” said members of the coalition, some of whom were Sens. Mel Martinez of Florida, Dianne Feinstein of California, Barbara Boxer of California, John Kerry of Massachusetts, Hillary Clinton of New York, Jim Jeffords of Vermont and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

“We are also concerned that the law may be interpreted to allow production of quantities of oil and gas in the NPR-A without the payment of royalties, and that royalty relief may be extended in situations where it is not warranted. We strongly believe the public must get a fair return for the production of federal oil and gas resources resulting from any lease sale on the NPR-A,” they said.

Moreover, “we have serious reservations about the impacts of the proposed Northeast NPR-A lease sale on the environment and subsistence users. The additional lands that are scheduled to be leased in September include some 200,000 acres that even [former Interior] Secretary James Watt didn’t think should be developed in the area near Teshekpuk Lake.”

As the new secretary of Interior, “you have the opportunity to take another look at these issues. We encourage you to do this and to take any steps necessary to address these issues. [And] we urge you to reconsider the decision to lease previously protected areas in the vicinity of Teshekpuk Lake, and in particular, those areas put off limits by [former] Secretary [James] Watt,” the senators said.

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