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The Denver Post - House GOP, Interior Spar over Energy Production

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Location: Washington, DC

By Allison Sherry

House Republicans, including those from Colorado, are at war with the Interior Department about how much better the U.S. is doing at producing its own energy.

To Republicans, the administration has drastically bogged down the oil- and-gas industry through increased regulation of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."

The five-month moratorium on off-shore deep-water drilling -- inspired by the Deepwater Horizon oil gusher, which leaked 4.9 million barrels of oil into the sea -- unnecessarily crippled a crucial U.S.-made source off the Gulf Coast, they say.

Additionally, Republicans contend the president's decision not to go through with the Keystone oil-sands pipeline through the nation's midsection will squander jobs and opportunity to bring up to 830,000 barrels of Canada crude south each day.

"I think we need a true all-of-the- above energy policy," said Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma. "Not one that is saying it but doing the opposite."

To Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar, the numbers on paper paint a healthy story of the United States eking its way to a more energy- independent future, while safely protecting public lands.

Total oil production on public lands -- off-shore and on-shore -- has kept pace with the Bush administration years, despite the moratorium in the gulf. Natural-gas production overall is at an all-time high, though there was a dip last year in production from federal lands.

"Nationwide, domestic oil and gas production has increased each year of this administration and is the highest that it's been in eight years," said Adam Fetcher, an Interior Department spokesman. "We've seen some of the highest oil and gas production levels from federal lands and waters in recent memory."

But perceptions differ, and distrust runs deep between the two sides.

Republicans and energy-industry types accuse the administration of spinning the numbers and obscuring data.

Administration officials say Republicans are blowing a one-year dip in numbers, from 2010 to 2011, out of proportion instead of looking at the three-year picture.

In 2011, oil and natural-gas production on federal lands dropped off. Natural-gas production fell by 11 percent in one year and oil production fell 14 percent, according to Interior Department data.

And as a trifecta of events nears a head -- escalating gas prices, the heavy summer driving season and a polarizing 2012 election cycle -- it's likely neither side will back off.

"It's like lies, damned lies and statistics," said Kathleen Sgamma, a director at the Western Energy Alliance, an oil- and-gas-industry group. "I call on the administration to be more transparent. We've never seen such obstacles and such uncertainty on public lands."

Energy experts say there are two major drivers to more domestic energy development on private and federal lands: gas prices and new technology.

New ways of extracting oil and gas have made it easier to have bigger yields, particularly in places such as North Dakota.

The administration, too, is likely enjoying the fruits from Bush administration policies and regulations. Since many energy projects take years to develop, what happens in March 2012 will not likely affect the price of a gallon of gas in April 2012.

Republicans and many in the industry say domestic energy production will likely plummet in future years because there is so much uncertainty. They say proposed regulations to make oil and gas companies disclose "fracking" fluid recipes have had a chilling effect.

"I'm not denying that there is permit activity," said Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo. Springs, who is on the House Natural Resources committee. "But there is no doubt the moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico has slowed things down ... clogged the system."

Matthew Garrington, who works for an industry-watchdog group called the Checks and Balances Project, says the numbers don't bear that out.

"It is like they are so focused on undermining President Obama that it's almost as if they're rooting for America to fail," he said. "The truth is, America is a world leader on energy production."


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