Salazar battles GOP on drilling

Fleming slammed limits on deepwater Gulf of Mexico permits — the federal ban was lifted in October, but the first new permit under tougher standards was issued just three days ago — and the reduced pace of shallow-water permitting, claiming it is prompting the exodus of some rigs.

From there, he also lamented the lack of industry access to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and said the onshore gas drilling method called hydraulic fracturing is “under attack.”

“So the impact is very significant and we well can’t really, in a time of [a] terrible economy and gas prices going up very quickly ... afford this,” Fleming said. From there he accused the Obama administration of a plan to drive up energy costs.

Here’s Fleming:
“So my question is this: Considering all of those points, isn’t this really an overall policy by the administration to allow gas prices to go up, to allow energy prices, fossil fuels, to go up, by constricting fossil fuel production in order to allow alternative fuels, which are not really cutting it in the marketplace, to allow those prices to come into parity, to become more competitive?”

Salazar replied:
“Congressman Fleming, with all due respect, I disagree with your characterization and your foundation, and the fact of the matter is that we have moved forward with drilling both onshore and offshore,” Salazar said, noting that 37 shallow-water permits have been issued since last year’s BP spill.

“In 2009 there were 116 rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, in 2010 in February, 120, in February 2011, 126. You should ask the question, why is the number of rigs going up in the Gulf of Mexico?" Salazar said.

Salazar added:
“It is the policy of this administration to explore and to develop that oil and gas as we have been doing over the last several years.”

“If you look at the production within the Gulf of Mexico, even in the midst of the national crisis of the Deepwater Horizon, the production has remained at an all-time high, and we expect that it will continue as we bring new production online.”

Interior has imposed a suite of new safety mandates in the wake of the BP spill and applied tougher scrutiny to permit applications, but critics say the agency should move faster on shallow-water and deepwater permitting.

Salazar said Wednesday that speeding up the pace of permitting is highly dependent on receiving Interior’s requested budget increase from Congress, a point he reiterated Thursday.