Republican Senators Comment on Expired Drilling Ban

By September 24, 2008General

A modest and appropropriate marking of a legislative victory.

From a transcript of a news conference with Senate Republicans today on energy, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) leading off:

MCCONNELL:  OK.  Well, thanks for joining us this morning.  We thought it was a good time to pause and celebrate an extraordinary accomplishment.

As all of you know, the biggest issue for the last six months has been the price of gas at the pump.  Some months back, 44 Republicans came together behind a bill we call the Gas Price Reduction Act, which did three or four things, three of which have been now accomplished. We advocated lifting the offshore moratorium on drilling.  We advocated lifting the moratorium on oil shale development.  And we advocated incentives for battery-driven cars.  Not that we thought that was every solution, but a good first step.

All three of those things have been accomplished, either already accomplished in the Senate with the passage of the energy extenders bill, or shortly will be accomplished when we pass the continuing resolution, because, as all of you know, both those moratoria have been lifted.

So we’re here today to celebrate this accomplishment, to thank the American people for literally sweeping over Congress with their public opinion and demanding this result.   

But also adding one cautionary note:  You get the impression in listening to the majority that it is their intent to restore these moratoria at a later time this year.   

We don’t think the American people will like that, if that’s what they intend to do.  We think they’ve made a good decision in taking these moratoria out of the continuing resolution.  We think it’d be widely applauded by the American people.  And some effort to sort of thumb your nose at public opinion as soon as the inconvenience of the election gets out of the way strikes us as not being very responsible in our democracy.

Now, the person who’s been our leader on energy issues for many years, and I think is enjoying this proud moment, is to my left, and I’d like to turn it over to the ranking member of the Energy Committee, Senator Pete Domenici.DOMENICI: Thank you, Mr. Leader.

And thank you, fellow Senators who are here.

I’m especially happy today because I’m not going to be here next year, and you all will, and you’re going to have to make sure that you don’t let the Democrats put this moratorium back on.

DOMENICI: And that will be wonderful, wonderful fight. I would love to be with you. I’ll be here with you, certainly, in spirit.

But I want to say, five and a half months ago, when I introduced the bill, I don’t know who was impressed with it, but I know our minority leader, who just spoke, he called me maybe a month after that bill was introduced and talked about let’s see — let’s see if we can’t really make this a big thing.

And I’m so proud to say that from this little beginnings, where we had one bill with four or five add-ons, but the big thing was to rid the American offshore of the moratorium that was imposed and has been there for about 26 years.

While America’s been struggling mightily to develop its own resources, so we didn’t spend all our money overseas in foreign countries, we had let this giant resource there untapped with one-year moratoria.

And from that bill, we’ve debated it, discussed it. We made — made the Senate vote on it. And sure enough, it caught on.

And who did it catch on with? It caught on with the American people, who understood very, very quickly that it was absolutely stupid to have billions of barrels of American oil that we owned, that was off our shores, to have it capped for use by a moratoria imposed based upon false facts and upon technology — technological facts that were not true.

We know that this oil can be brought on board and the big — trillions of cubic feet of natural gas that’s there can be brought on board for Americans, by Americans, with little or no harm to the environment.

DOMENICI: And I am sure that, when we finish this, and finally give the states some piece of the royalty, we’re going to find that states like California are going to be shocked at how many billions of dollars they can receive from shared resources and how little damage, if any, will occur to their seashore by this great asset being developed for our people.

I will close by saying thank you to the American people for getting it right down to the point: “Drill, drill, drill,” said they. And that’s why we’re here today, because that was finally heard by the majority party, and that we can now prepare plans to drill for them.

Thank you very much.

ALEXANDER: I want to thank Senator McConnell and Senator Domenici for their leadership.

Republicans have proved, on a number of occasions, that we’re pretty good on defense. We can stop a bad bill, if we want to, with our votes. But on energy, we’ve proved we’re also pretty good on offense, when we set our mind to it.

We can force a good result by taking a position and going to the American people.

This is a big victory. It ought not to be underestimated. With Senator Domenici’s support, I remember offering an amendment in the spring to allow Virginia to drill offshore, 50 miles offshore, only for natural gas.

It got 47 votes, 43 Republicans and four Democrats, and lost. That’s how far we’ve come.

When the price of gasoline began to go up in the spring, the responses we heard were insufficient. They were about a gas tax holiday, about suing OPEC, about taking some oil out of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, about speculation.

Then Republicans, under the leadership of Senator McConnell and Senator Domenici, said, let’s find more American oil and let’s use less, through off-shore drilling, oil shale, and then by using less, by encouraging electric cars.

ALEXANDER: And you’ve seen the result: No ban on off-shore drilling, no ban on oil shale, and a big push for electric cars to use less.

Now, in football terms — and this is football season — it’s as if in the spring we were fourth down and deep in our own end zone. And today we’re on 20 yard line and it’s first down.

We’ve had a great victory, but in order to really score points we’re going to have to finish the job and actually start drilling.

So our challenge is, as Senator Domenici said, to take the message back to the American people and say, “The ban is lifted. We’re on the 20 yard line. Let’s get some results.”

We Republicans are looking for many ways to drill and produce American energy. Too often the Democrats are looking for every excuse they can not to do it.

BENNETT: Oil shale, very important in the state of Utah and the state of Colorado and the state of Wyoming.

Oil shale is all over the world at various levels of strength. But in those three places oil shale — oil in the shale is at the highest level available anywhere in the world and the recoverable estimates run anywhere from a low of 800 billion barrels to a high of 2 trillion barrels.

Now, everyone has said, who was opposed to proceeding in this regard, “Oil shale is too expensive to get the oil out. It’s too environmentally damaging. It takes to much water. It takes too much energy. You can’t do it.”

BENNETT: If that is all true, it won’t get done. The market will dictate that there will be no exploitation of the oil shale.

The problem with the moratorium has been this: the moratorium has prevented the Department of Interior from even issuing a lease to allow somebody to try to find out. And I’ve always said to them, what are you afraid of? You’re afraid it might work. You’re afraid to issue the lease in case somebody uses the lease to discover that they really can produce 800 billion to more than a trillion barrels of oil. Because if all of the things you say are true, the market place will say there won’t be any development.

What you’re doing by putting this moratorium on the finalization of the rules under which leases can be issued, you’re saying, we don’t want to find out. Well, it’s very clear, given the pressures that we have from $4 a gallon gas, people want to find out.

They want to discover whether or not these trillions of barrels of oil can be extracted from oil shale in a manner that is economic and environmentally sensitive. I think it’s worth finding out, and I think the decision to allow the Department of Interior to issue the rules under which leases can be granted is the best way to find out, and I agree with Senator Alexander that this is a great victory for common sense. We need to find out, and if it does turn out to have the kind of potential that we’re talking, it can transform the world in terms of its impact on world prices and world supply.

BENNETT: It’s time the moratorium was lifted, and I’m delighted that it has been.

HUTCHISON: Well, to extend Senator Alexander’s metaphor, I will just say that if we’re on our own 20 and it’s first and 10, I hope
Tony Roma was the quarterback. (LAUGHTER)

We have come a long way since mid-July when I had my amendment ready and announced that I was going to put on the Interior appropriations bill this very lifting of the moratorium and the majority canceled the markup.

Now, two months later, we are seeing that the majority has finally determined that the American people understand that we can drill environmentally safely on our own shores, using our natural resources to meet our American problem. That is a huge victory.

Let me say two things: First of all, we have just had pure evidence that we can drill off our coast and protect our coast at the same time. My state has just had an enormous hurricane, with enormous surge, with oil rigs out in the Gulf that were completely shut down, some even damaged, with not one oil spill.

And the same thing happened in Katrina, the same result.

We can do this and protect our shores and help our American economy remain vibrant and remain free of the necessity of importing 60 percent (ph) of our energy.

So I’m very pleased that we will have this opportunity to go forward.

Second point, we are on our own 20. We’ve got to come back and pass the laws that will give the states a part of the profit that can be made here. This is something that we have just been able to do for the Gulf Coast, and we have not even begun to get the rewards, even though we have been drilling for years in the Gulf of Mexico.

But I think the state incentive is important, and it is fair for these states and their citizens to be able to reap some of the benefit of helping our country with our economic necessity.

Thank you very much.

CHAMBLISS: Well, this is a — certainly a day for celebration in the world of energy. Everybody here has one goal in mind. And that is for the United States to become energy independent.

The action being taken with respect to this C.R. is a giant step in the right direction. But it’s only the first step. If an application were made tomorrow with MMS to drill offshore in the United States, that application would be put into a rotation of a five-year plan.

So the next step has got to be for the development of a congressional plan to move down the road to becoming energy independent. The next step needs to be opening up an area that is not opened by the lifting of the moratorium, and that’s an area where we know the oil and gas is, and that’s in the Gulf of Mexico. The lifting of this moratorium does not lift the moratorium on additional exploration there.

So I’m very hopeful that as we look at this issue when Congress reconvenes, assuming we’re out of here this week for an extended period, that we’re going to have a plan that will be put forward that will move us down the road and take the next step toward becoming energy independent.

I compliment our leadership, who have worked very hard to make sure that we did achieve this goal, which is the first step.

Thank you.

INHOFE: Yes, three things real briefly.

First of all, when the number one issue in America became the price of gas at the pumps, people realized that the Democrats have been keeping us from increasing our supplies, the supply-and-demand answer.

The magnitude of what we’re talking about offshore is just tremendous. It would — if we’re able to explore all of those resources out there, the 85 percent that’s been under a moratorium, it would amount to 35 years of importation from Saudi Arabia.

Then, when you get into the (inaudible) to the shale, that is 50 times that great.

So we’re talking about a huge amount now. We can look to the future and see that we can actually do this and start going after our own resources.

The biggest job is going to be to keep these moratoria off after the elections are over. I would hate to think the Democrats would try to take advantage of this and then turn around and reinstate moratorium. That’s going to be our job.

DEMINT: Everybody’s leaving.

(LAUGHTER)

Well, a quick word, then. There’s probably no issue that provides a better contrast between Republicans and Democrats than this issue, here. And Americans are on to it.

For years, Republicans have tried to lift this ban. For years, the Democrats have tried to block it. This year, the anger of the American people backed the Democrats down, and the American people won.

DEMINT: Again, I want to echo the sentiment that this is an enormous breakthrough, and very, very momentous.

Now, there may be a few folks who, quite frankly, spend way too much time in Washington, who say, well, Congress didn’t pass an energy plan or a bill.

I disagree with that completely, because, at the end of the day, we will have lifted the moratorium on offshore production. We will have lifted the moratorium on western (ph) oil shale production, and we will have passed major tax incentives for renewables and new technology. And that is far bolder and more substantial than any plan that existed just a few weeks ago.

And it’s all because the American people demanded that level of bold action, and democracy worked.

DEMINT: OK. Any questions?

DEMINT: Any questions? Thank you very much.

END

 

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