Oil and Gas
“Today we continue the Committee’s work on domestic oil and gas production and the safety and environmental protection that are essential elements of responsible production. In the last Congress, the Committee did diligent, bipartisan work on these issues and made considerable progress. I am hopeful we will continue today down that path that will lead to effective legislation in this Congress.
“In the last Congress we held five hearings on offshore production and issues related to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. We unanimously reported legislation intended to ensure that such accidents would not happen again, and to move toward a culture of excellence for the agency and the industry. That same legislation is one of the subjects of our hearing today.
“In this Congress, we held a hearing with the co-chairs of the National Oil Spill Commission on their excellent report and the lessons learned from their work.
“Today, we will hear testimony on four bills related to domestic oil and gas that have been referred to our Committee. The sponsors of two of the bills are with us today.
“The other two bills – S. 916 and S. 917 – I’ll take just a minute to describe them. They are intended to separately address two aspects of the issue of responsible domestic production based on bipartisan, consensus-based work.
“S. 916, the Oil and Gas Facilitation Act, is intended to enhance efficient and appropriate domestic production of oil and gas. The last two years have been a time of real success in increasing domestic production and reducing our reliance on imported oil. We’re currently the largest producer of natural gas and the third largest producer of oil in the world. The percentage of the oil that we use that is imported has declined from 60 percent in 2008 to 51 percent in 2009 and 49 percent in 2010.
“Unfortunately, this is not the cure for high gas prices, or we would have seen gas prices decline consistently over these years instead of increasing. But this progress is important for many other reasons, and we want to be sure that it continues.
“The provisions of S. 916 are drawn from a bill reported by the Committee in the last Congress. Among other things, the bill would provide for a thorough inventory of oil and gas resources on areas of the Outer Continental Shelf; and ensure that permitting processes for oil and gas development on public lands and waters are efficient and well coordinated among the agencies.
“S. 917, the Outer Continental Shelf Reform Act, is identical to a bill unanimously reported by the Committee last year following the Deepwater Horizon accident. It would reform the management of the Outer Continental Shelf in several ways, including: agency reorganization; stronger planning, safety and environmental requirements; enhanced research capacity and third party oversight; increased financial responsibility requirements for industry operators; and more effective enforcement.
“I believe that starting from this consensus vehicle will be helpful in working quickly through this issue this year. This bill will need some updating, Senator Murkowski and I have already spent considerable time working together to do that. Our work will continue. I hope to be able to consider both bills in the Committee before the Memorial Day recess.
“I will note that I have introduced these bills as separate bills for a reason. I want to give our work the best possible chance of being enacted into law. I believe we do that by dealing with these issues in parallel.
“There is not much disagreement in the Senate about the need for responsible domestic production, but there is considerable disagreement about how best to address that issue. We will work hard to find productive areas of consensus.
“However, ensuring the safety and viability of our operations on the Outer Continental Shelf is a separate matter that deserves attention on its own. The question of how we undertake oil and gas development appropriately stands apart from the question of where we undertake those activities.
Congress should set an appropriate level of safety and environmental compliance regardless of where oil and gas exploration is occurring. Our commitment to responsible offshore operations and protection of our citizens and communities is widely shared. The fact that oil is no longer gushing into the Gulf, as it was last year, does not diminish the importance of this work.
Today’s hearing is the next step on these parallel tracks that I’ve described. I look forward to hearing the testimony, and to continuing our efforts on these important issues.”
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