Energy Policy ( 1/28/13 )
Energy policy incorporates a wide range of issues. Many of which are important to the geoscience community, including exploration and discovery, research and development related to fossil fuels and alternative energy resources, resource development on public lands, environmental concerns, and climate change. Nuclear energy, nuclear waste disposal and non-proliferation issues, which are also key issues in energy policy, are covered on a separate page for nuclear policy. Policymakers are working to better integrate policy for all forms of energy resources. The administration will continue to consider energy policy and clean energy development as a major area of concern, and essential for economic growth, national security, international relations, energy efficiency, sustainability, and overall quality of life. It is likely that the 112th Congress will consider measures to develop a renewable electricity standard (RES) and ways to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Hearing Held in Alaska on Offshore Drilling in the Arctic (10/12)
The hearing was held to examine the operational lessons to be learned following the first season of exploratory drilling activity in the Arctic. Shell has completed preliminary drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas for the 2012 season. The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that the offshore Alaska region could contain 27 billion barrels of oil and over 120 trillion cubic feet of gas. Witnesses included David Hayes, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior; Laura Furgione, Acting Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administation’s National Weather Service; Thomas Ostebo, Commander of the Seventeenth District of the U.S. Coast Guard; Pete Slaiby, Vice President of Exploration and Production for Shell Alaska; Jacob Adams, Chief Administrative Officer for the North Slope Borough in Alaska; and Edith Vorderstrasse, Consulting Division Manager of the Ukpeagvik Iñupiat Corporation.
Pete Slaiby, head of Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s Alaska operation, called for an overhaul of the current regulatory process saying, “To put it bluntly, the regulatory process for drilling in Alaska is broken; it is not efficient, it results in unnecessary and costly delays, and it needs to be fixed.”
Slaiby told Begich that, “Shell paid the federal government $2.2 billion for leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.” Slaiby called for clarity and consistency in the regulatory process, a single office to handle federal permitting for offshore Alaska energy projects as well as coordinated and timely decisions from federal agencies. Slaiby asked Congress to limit the amount of time for activists to file lawsuits from six years to 60 days. He advocated for extending leases beyond 10 years since fluctuations in Arctic sea ice only allow for drilling during three to four months out of the year.
Jacob Adams, Chief Administrative Officer for the North Slope Borough, recommended that the Interior Department modify their upcoming management plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to make it easier for oil companies to transport oil from the Chukchi Sea to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System through a pipeline that runs through the reserve.
Opening statements, witness testimonies and an archived webcast of the hearing can be found on the committee’s web site.
Energy policy, a hot topic on Capitol Hill, has become coupled with the issue of climate change as policymakers focus attention on conservation, efficiency, and alternative energy options.
The 110th Congress’ work on energy issues culminated in the passage of the omnibus Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (H.R. 6), which was signed into law (Public Law 110-140) in December 2007. The law increases vehicle fuel efficiency standards and provides other conservation, efficiency and alternative energy provisions that legislators thought were missing from the previous congress' major energy law, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (also H.R. 6). The Energy Independence and Security Act also authorizes funds for research and development (R&D), some of it in the geosciences.
Legislators continued to consider energy issues throughout the second session of the 110th Congress in 2008 and some additional energy bills were introduced. Energy issues were often discussed in relation to climate change legislation and Congress seemed prepared to consider energy policy that dealt with climate change. However, skyrocketing oil prices in the summer of 2008 shifted the emphasis to supply and demand issues. President Bush lifted the executive ban on expanding offshore drilling in an effort to pressure Congress to end the moratorium on new offshore drilling that is normally part of the Interior appropriations bill. This caused significant acrimony in Congress and shut down the appropriations process.
On July 23, 2008 the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released an assessment of undiscovered oil and gas resources north of the Arctic Circle of which 84 percent occurs in offshore areas. The estimates of 90 billion barrels of oil and 1,669 trillion cubic feet of natural gas were determined using a geology-based probabilistic methodology and account for 13 and 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas resources, respectively. The study included resources considered technically recoverable using existing technologies, but did not include economic factors, the presence of permanent sea ice or oceanic water depth in the determination. This has spurred renewed attention to the Law of the Sea Treaty and furthered the offshore drilling efforts and searches for unconventional fossil fuels (such as oil shales or gas hydrates).
In November 2012, the Bureau of Land Management released their plan for the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A) that outlines the DOI’s conservation and petroleum production plans for the NPR-A. Offshore of Alaska, the 2012 Arctic drilling season was marked by drilling attempts in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas by Royal Dutch Shell PLC. Shell experienced numerous delays including heavier than expected sea ice, delays in the Coast Guard’s certification of the Arctic Challenger oil spill response vessel, failed testing of its oil spill containment dome, and an inability to meet EPA initial air pollution standards. Additionally, Shell’s drill ship, Kulluk ran aground during a storm and the drill ship Noble Discoverer nearly ran aground. Setbacks caused the company to only successfully drill a few top holes.
General background information on the issues surrounding energy policy that Congress has been working on is available from several Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports.
Contributed by Wilson Bonner, AGI Geoscience Policy.
Background section includes material from AGI's Energy Policy Pages for the 112th Congress.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Geoscience Policy.
Last updated on January 28, 2013