Alaska Journal of Commerce: Murkowski, Cantwell see hike in oil taxes, inspections

U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Maria Cantwell said they expect swift Congressional action resulting from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Cantwell, a Democrat of Washington, said June 5 she is working on a plan to require third-party technical verification for approvals on offshore rig and well engineering modifications.

Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, said she expects to see a higher federal tax on oil production to allow the U.S. spill liability fund to be increased to $10 billion.

"There is only $1.9 billion now in the spill liability fund and this is clearly inadequate. We have already introduced legislation to raise the tax providing money to the fund from 8 cents per barrel to 9 cents, and it may have to be higher," Murkowski said in a press conference.

Cantwell, a senior Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the committee, were together in Anchorage for a wrap-up session of the National Women's Leadership Summit, which focused on energy and environmental issues in this session. The press conference was at the end of the leadership summit

Murkowski said she expects major revisions in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which was passed following the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.

The Alaska senator said hearings were held on the spill fund last Tuesday by the Senate energy committee. The committee is waiting on an assessment by the Congressional Budget Office of how high the tax must be to get the liability fund to $10 billion. It may have to go up to 10 cents a barrel, Murkowski said.

Cantwell said her interest in independent technical verification arose from reports that modifications were done to the blowout preventer and well design on the Deepwater Horizon rig that may not have been properly vetted.

On Alaskan offshore issues, Murkowski said she hopes Shell will be given approval to drill in 2011 after seeing its planned exploration program for 2010 shelved by President Obama's moratorium on offshore work.

"I have discussed this with Secretary (Ken) Salazar and I believe he understands the potential of the Arctic and that it doesn't make sense to shut ourselves off from all opportunities," for new oil supply.

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Source: By Tim Bradner. Published June 11, 2010