OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Allen is back

State of Play: Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the public face of last year's White House response to the BP oil spill, will step back into the spotlight Friday.

Allen, who largely left life in the public eye after the national incident command was shuttered in October, will testify at a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on improving oil spill response and energy security.

The hearing will also include testimony from two members of the national oil spill commission, which released its final recommendations last month. The commission was critical of the administration’s initial response to the spill, including efforts to calculate the flow-rate of the oil spewing out of the Macondo well.

The atmosphere on Capitol Hill has changed significantly since Allen was a regular fixture on the evening news. It has even changed in the weeks since the co-chairmen of the oil spill commission testified before two Congressional committees.

Now, all eyes are on the Middle East, where protests have sparked fears about U.S. reliance on foreign oil. Those fears have in turn led pro-drilling lawmakers to ramp up calls for wider domestic oil-and-gas development. 

At a House Energy and Commerce Committee Thursday, Republican lawmakers said the unrest in Egypt shows that the United States needs to open more offshore areas to oil drilling.

“The National Petroleum Council estimates we have upwards of 40 billion barrels of oil locked away in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic and Pacific Coasts, on- and offshore Alaska, that are currently off-limits for production,” Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), who chairs the panel’s energy subcommittee, said at the hearing. “These resources could easily double our domestic production capacity and replace our imports from the Middle East.”

Republicans also called on the Obama administration to approve a pending pipeline that would carry Canadian oil sands from Alberta to Texas. “This would not be as much of a dangerous situation if we accessed our resources in the Gulf and if we accessed the oil from our friends in Canada,” Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said at the hearing.

Meanwhile, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called for opening up large swaths of areas offshore for drilling in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday.

NEWS BITES:

Mining regulator issues safety 'alert' to prevent future deaths

The Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration issued an “alert” for miners Thursday outlining the reasons 71 miners died last year in U.S. mines. The administration released the information in hopes of protecting miners from future accidents.

“We must all learn from these tragedies and act to prevent additional fatalities,” Joseph Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, said in a statement. “Fatalities are not inevitable. They can be prevented using effective safety and health management programs, workplace examinations for hazards, and effective and appropriate training so that miners recognize and understand the hazards, and how to control or eliminate them.”

A total of 29 miners died last year in an explosion at West Virginia's Upper Big Branch mine. MSHA says that half of the other miner deaths involved violations of the “Rules to Live By” outlined by the administration. 

Murkowski calls for U.S. drilling on heels of Saudi report 

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said Thursday that a news report on questions about Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves should prompt expanded U.S. drilling.

“If reports that Saudi oil reserves have been inflated are true, it would be irresponsible and downright dangerous for us to continue to rely so heavily on foreign energy suppliers, while our own resources remain under federal lock and key,” said Murkowski, the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, in a statement.

“Alaska could be producing over a million and a half barrels a day more right now, if we were able to access our resources offshore and in ANWR. Instead, federal agencies are forcing Americans to buy that energy from unstable regions, which frequently do not have our best interests in mind,” she said.

Her office circulated a Wednesday CNN story about WikiLeaks documents that address Saudi Arabia’s oil capacity.

“Saudi Arabia's oil reserves may have been grossly overestimated and its capacity to continue pumping at current capacity exaggerated, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable sent from the kingdom in 2007,” the story states.

“The cable, obtained by WikiLeaks and published in the British newspaper The Guardian, cited the views of Sadad al-Husseini, who had been in charge of exploration and production at the Saudi state-owned company Aramco for 12 years until 2004,” it adds.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:


E2 explored a range of topics Thursday. We looked at next steps in EPA’s study of a controversial natural gas drilling method, and from there reported on the Sierra Club’s strategy for protecting EPA’s air pollution rules.

We also looked at new polling on legislation to scuttle EPA climate rules, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) attacks on Obama administration regulatory policies, and White House GOP hopeful Newt Gingrich’s push to abolish EPA and replace it with something new.

And finally, House Democrats ramped up their calls for yanking oil industry tax breaks.

Please send tips and comments to Ben Geman, ben.geman@thehill.com, and Andrew Restuccia, arestuccia@thehill.com.

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