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Protecting Families at the Pump and Expanding Responsible Domestic Oil Production

Heather Zichal, Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, discusses the Administration’s policies to support safe and responsible domestic oil and gas production.

From the beginning, this Administration has shown a commitment to protecting American families at the pump by taking steps to reduce our reliance on foreign oil. In March, the President announced a goal of reducing oil imports by a third by 2025, through a combination of increased domestic production, investment in alternative fuels, and increased efficiency in the vehicles we drive. As the President has made clear, there is no immediate fix for high gas prices. That said there are sensible steps we can take to protect families over the long term. In last week’s weekly address, the President laid out important steps that the Administration is taking to continue to expand responsible and safe domestic oil production.  These include a number of sensible, bipartisan ideas that we can act on with existing authority-- like directing the Department of the Interior to conduct annual lease sales in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve, while respecting sensitive areas; speeding up the evaluation of oil and gas resources in the mid and south Atlantic; and creating new incentives for industry to develop their unused leases both on and offshore.  About 57 percent of leased onshore acres and over 70 percent of leased offshore acres are currently inactive, and last year, of the nearly 37 million offshore acres offered for lease by the Federal government, only 2.4 million acres were leased by companies.   

To make sure that companies have time to meet higher safety standards for exploration and drilling with existing leases, the Administration is extending drilling leases in areas of the Gulf of Mexico that were impacted by the temporary moratorium, as well as certain leases off the coast of Alaska.  And, a new interagency working group will help ensure that Arctic development projects meet health, safety and environmental standards.

While the Administration can take these important steps without waiting for Congress to act, there is more that we could do with legislation.  That’s why today, in testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced a series of legislative principles that the Administration is calling on Congress to implement in order to further expand timely and safe domestic oil and gas development.   The goals of these legislative principles include: 

  • Providing incentives for the prompt development of oil and gas leases, encouraging companies to act on the millions of acres they already have access to but are not currently producing;
  • Providing the tools for the federal government to oversee offshore oil and gas development activities on a timely and effective basis, by codifying the unprecedented reforms DOI has put into place to increase safety and environmental oversight;

These priorities expand on the foundation and record this Administration has already put into place – overhauling oversight and improving safety and environmental responsibility while continuing production.  In the year since the tragic Deepwater Horizon oil spill, we have raised the bar for safety through the most extensive reforms to offshore oil and gas regulation and oversight in U.S. history.  The changes strengthen requirements for everything from well design and workplace safety to corporate accountability, and are helping both government and industry to ensure that the United States can safely and responsibly expand development of its energy resources to support our economy and our energy security.   

And, despite claims to the contrary, the Administration continues to approve permits that meet these new standards.  To date, 53 new shallow water wells have been permitted since the implementation of new safety and environmental standards on June 8, 2010.  Permits have averaged 6 per month since October 2010.  Since mid-February when industry first demonstrated subsea containment, DOI has approved 34 permits for activities at 14 unique deepwater wells. These numbers not only underscore our commitment to ongoing production, they show that industry can and is meeting these important new standards.

Read more about the Administration’s policies to support safe and responsible domestic oil and gas production from the Department of Interior.

Heather Zichal is Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change