Murkowski takes another crack at energy bill; OCS review opens

  • U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski looks on as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks during a news conference on May 31 in Anchorage after he announced steps during a speech earlier in the day to review resource estimates for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain. (Photo/Mark Thiessen/AP)

As promised, Sen. Lisa Murkowski is taking another shot at the major task of updating the country’s energy policy.

Murkowski introduced the Energy and Natural Resources Act June 28. The omnibus energy reform bill is pretty much a continuation of the Energy Policy Modernization Act, which died last December when House and Senate conference committee negotiations stalled.

“This new bill encompasses a wide range of Alaska priorities for energy, resource, innovation, infrastructure and land management policies. It will allow us to tap into more of our world-class mineral base, removes hurdles to the gasline, expand the use of hydropower and other renewables, reauthorize critical programs that provide vital funding, boost Alaska Native energy development, increase sportsmen’s access to federal lands and protect against natural hazards,” Murkowski said in a release from her office.

“This is a bill written by and with Alaskans, for the benefit of our whole state and I’m eager to work with my colleagues to move it forward.”

Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, often stressed that last session’s Energy Modernization Act was also drafted in concert with Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, the ranking Democrat on the committee and a co-sponsor of the current bill.

Last year’s legislation passed the Senate with 85 votes and Murkowski blamed House leaders — who she accused of being more interested in leaving for the holidays than working on the bill — when it fell just short of making it to the president’s desk.

This go-round, Murkowski got Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to put the Energy and Natural Resources Act on the Senate Calendar right away, giving the bill an expedited timeline for a floor vote, according to a committee release.

Among many other provisions, the bill federally classifies hydropower as renewable energy; gives route options for a natural gas export pipeline through Denali National Park; mandates the Secretary of Energy to rule on LNG export applications within 45 days after the environmental review of a project is finished; and directs a suite of permitting reforms for energy generation and distribution and mineral projects.

Arctic OCS plan

In between scolding President Donald Trump on Twitter for regular off-hand remarks on social media, Murkowski praised the Trump administration June 29 for working to reverse a ban on federal Arctic offshore oil and gas leasing instituted by President Barack Obama in the waning days of his presidency.

In April, Trump issued his own executive order to reverse Obama’s moratorium on Arctic offshore leasing.

On June 29, the Interior Department issued a request for information to revise the 2017-2022 outer continental shelf, or OCS, oil and gas leasing plan the Obama administration finalized in November sans a schedule for any Arctic lease sales.

The request for information is the first step in what is likely to be a multi-year process to revise the leasing schedule.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke also ordered onshore oil and gas resource evaluations for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and a new look at the management plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska during a trip to Anchorage May 31 with an eventual aim at more industry activity on federal North Slope lands.

“I’m pleased the administration has wasted no time in starting the process for a new and better plan that could increase offshore development in Alaska and elsewhere,” Murkowski said. “With technological innovation, offshore development is now cheaper, easier, safer and farther-reaching than ever before.

“What has not changed is that offshore development is a critical source of energy, jobs and security, so I look forward to working with Secretary Zinke to develop a strong plan for our state and nation.”

Arctic development in near shore state waters to date has consisted of constructing manmade islands and Hilcorp Energy is currently in permitting for its Liberty prospect, which would be the first such manmade island project in shallow federal waters off the North Slope.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas could hold 23 billion barrels of oil and another 104 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Even with federal support to drill for those resources, it is unclear how much interest industry would have in green field development in such a high-cost arena with oil and prices expected to remain low for years to come.

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Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

Updated: 
07/03/2017 - 1:55pm

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