EDITORIAL: Proof that production isn’t a priority for Obama


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More evidence came out April 18 that President Obama and his administration aren’t big fans of oil and natural gas development.

It came in the form of an indefinite delay in a decision from the State Department regarding approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would allow oil from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to be delivered to Gulf Coast ports and would create numerous jobs in the U.S.

The Keystone review process has gone on for more than five years. Even so, the State Department announcement said more time is needed for the review of comments and documents.

People in oil-producing states such as Alaska have long been suspect of this administration, which through this latest action on Keystone shows it isn’t terribly interested in pressing hard on oil and gas development.

Now there’s fresh data to back up that assessment.

The April 18 Keystone announcement comes a week after the Congressional Research Service, a non-partisan agency of Congress, issued a report about oil and gas development on federal and non-federal lands. The report shows that the federal government is mostly a bystander these days when it comes to oil and gas development.

Oil production from federal lands has fallen nearly 11 percent in recent years, from 33.8 percent of total domestic production in 2009 — the first year of the Obama administration — to 23 percent in 2013. The drop is significant and caused not by a sharp drop in production on federal lands but by a boom in activity on private or state lands. The actual number of barrels produced on federal land did fall, though only slightly, by about 110,000 barrels per day from the 1.77 million barrels daily in 2009.

Why didn’t federal lands see a production increase like that on private and state lands?

One clue comes from the permitting process, which the Congressional Research Service report says has grown lengthier in recent years but is showing some signs of improvement. Still, it doesn’t compare to what can occur at the state level with permitting for drilling on private land. The report notes “the relative ease of leasing from private parties.”

Easing the federal permit process while safeguarding the environment is something that Congress needs to tackle and that the White House — not those now in it, most likely — should champion if the U.S. is to further strengthen its status as a leading oil and gas producer.

The Keystone announcement, meanwhile, brought a cascade of criticism, especially from the U.S. Senate, where the denouncement of was bipartisan. Alaska’s two senators — Republican Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Mark Begich — each had biting words for President Obama.

Sen. Murkowski, who is ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee: “The administration’s choice to delay indefinitely a decision on extending the Keystone XL pipeline is nothing short of a stunning act of political cowardice. .”

Sen. Begich, who is up for re-election and is one of the keys to Democrats’ hopes of retaining control of the Senate: “I am frankly appalled at the continued foot-dragging by this administration on the Keystone project.”

The Obama administration won’t be listening, however. And they won’t be paying attention to the Congressional Research Service’s oil and gas report either.

“Hope and change”? That’s what candidate Obama pitched prior to the 2008 election.

Yes, we do hope things change for oil and gas production on federal lands, here in Alaska and elsewhere. But it will fall to others to make it happen.

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