Politico: Time to pass new drilling regs

It’s now one year since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven lives were lost in that tragic disaster, and oil gushed uncontrollably for the next 87 days. These terrible events transfixed our nation — highlighting failures within industry and government.

Even before the well was capped, the need for a substantive legislative response was obvious. Instead, many reactions were just that – reactionary. Finger-pointing, counterproductive ideas and harsh rhetoric flooded Capitol Hill. Some early suspicions and later conclusions reported by the media – whether about Gulf beaches or seafood – proved off the mark and added to the economic damage.

Meanwhile, an additional challenge has now emerged. As oil skyrockets above $105 a barrel, the emotional shock we felt last summer has been replaced by pain at the pump — and real damage to our economy. Americans now wonder what Congress will do to increase the domestic supply of oil – if not to bring prices down, then to at least keep them from rising further.

These challenges may appear to demand conflicting solutions, but they offer Congress a unique opportunity to pass meaningful energy legislation.

There are clear needs to improve the safety of offshore operations and produce more of our own tremendous oil and gas resources. Those priorities are in the same sentence because they must be part of the same policy. We need to address them together — the sooner the better.

For my part, I am committed to working with the members of the Senate Energy Committee, including Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), to advance just that type of legislation. It is my hope that we will build on two bills that passed our committee last Congress – each with strong bipartisan support – to develop a better package.

The first set of provisions, in the Outer Continental Shelf Reform Act, creates a number of important worker safety and spill prevention measures. That bill passed our committee unanimously last June, only to die at Majority Leader Harry Reid’s desk.

It was frustrating and a waste. But we now have the opportunity to re-visit the bill, cut unnecessary or obsolete sections from it and add new provisions based on lessons learned.

One positive to emerge is the opportunity to make our regulations more cost-effective. We’ve learned that chartering helicopters to and from offshore rigs consumes the majority of our regulators’ expenditures. Other nations simply send their inspectors to rigs via empty seats on industry helicopters. Overly stringent rules about “traveling on private aircraft” have led to unintended consequences. Meanwhile, budgets have been needlessly consumed by transportation costs, rather than with more and better inspections. It’s time to fix this, and use the money on safety.

And there is no point ensuring offshore safety if companies aren’t allowed to drill there. That’s why legislation outlining new rules for the oil and gas industry must move concurrently with a serious effort to increase offshore production.

The need for greater supply is achingly obvious with prices now above $100 a barrel. We have to reduce our oil consumption. But under even the rosiest scenario, we’re going to need a lot of oil for a long time. For the sake of our economy, it has to remain affordable.

Domestic production keeps our money here — circulating in our own economy, instead of sending it to countries that are not our friends. This increased domestic production could fund research and development of renewables and also help pay down the deficit.

The U.S. is still competitive among major oil producing regimes. The immense size of our resource base and our current fiscal structure combine to attract hundreds of billions of dollars in oil and gas-related commerce each year. But this will all go away if companies cannot access U.S. resources, or if they can’t rely on stable taxes and regulations.

I’m committed to eliminating the growing uncertainty in those areas and cutting down the risks that drilling can pose to our safety and the environment.

We can honor the lives of those lost on this anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon by putting aside the partisan talking points and passing legislation that ensures the offshore oil and gas industry grows safely, competitively and sustainably.

That’s the job of Congress. We need to do it.


Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is the ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.



Source: By: Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Originally Published on April 20, 2011