White House, GOP lock horns over US oil production

The Energy Information Administration (EIA), in a short-term energy outlook released Wednesday, says domestic oil production increased by 150,000 barrels per day in 2010.

That’s a significant increase, Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, noted in a blog post published on the White House website Tuesday night.

The EIA data show that 2010 had the highest U.S. domestic oil production since 2003, a figure Zichal notes in her blog post.

Zichal said the numbers show that the administration has been working diligently to expand domestic oil and gas production, even before gas prices reached a two-year high.

“One area where we have focused our efforts since the start of the administration — long before this current spike — is increasing responsible domestic energy production, including oil and gas,” Zichal said.

But Zichal’s post ignores the fact that domestic oil production is projected to decrease in 2011 and 2012.

EIA, the statistical arm of the Energy Department, says in the report that production will decline by 110,000 barrels per day in 2011 and another 130,000 barrels per day in 2012. That is expected to bring U.S. domestic oil production down from 5.51 million barrels a day in 2010 to 5.40 million barrels a day in 2011 and 5.27 million barrels a day in 2012, EIA says.

This includes production declines in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, where production will go down by 240,000 barrels a day in 2011 and another 200,000 barrels a day in 2012. The declines in Alaska and the Gulf will be partially offset by increases in production onshore, the report notes.

The decrease in the Gulf can be attributed in part to the moratorium on deepwater drilling in the region (which has now been lifted) and the pace of offshore drilling permits, EIA spokesman Jonathan Cogan said.

Republicans were happy to point out the projected decreases Tuesday. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) blamed the projected decline on the slow pace of offshore drilling permits coming out of the Interior Department since last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Hastings and other Republicans have termed it a “de facto moratorium.”

“The numbers don’t lie—it’s clear that this Administration is taking U.S. energy policy in exactly in the wrong direction,” Hastings said in a statement. “Gas prices are closing in on $4 per gallon and thousands of people are out of work in the Gulf because of the de facto moratorium on drilling permits.”

But the Obama administration says it is working diligently to issue permits. It has thus far issued 37 shallow-water drilling permits and one deepwater drilling permit since the spill. Drillers need to prove that they can contain runaway wells before being granted a permit.

“Of course, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill served as a reminder that we must develop our domestic energy resources both safely and responsibly,” Zichal said in her blog post. “That is why the Administration developed important new safety standards that increase oversight and build on the lessons learned from the worst oil spill in U.S. history.”

Republicans have focused much of their criticism on what they call “misleading” comments by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar at a recent House Natural Resources Committee hearing. Salazar touted Interior’s efforts to increase domestic production and noted that production has increased in recent years.

An Interior Department spokeswoman, asked for comment, pointed The Hill to Zichal's blog post.

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