Louisiana Reps Urge Salazar to Authorize More Offshore Drilling

HOUSTON (Dow Jones Newswires), Apr. 8, 2009

Louisiana representatives encouraged U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to authorize more offshore drilling for oil and gas at a regional meeting held in New Orleans Wednesday.

The representatives asked Salazar not to forget the importance of the oil and gas industry in the U.S. economy as a source of jobs and tax dollars.

"Lifting the ban on energy development on the outer continental shelf will create 1.2 million jobs across the country and $2.2 trillion in tax revenue," said U.S. Rep. Joseph Cao, R-La. "These numbers represent more than four stimulus packages combined."

The meeting, the second of four sessions the Interior Department plans to hold this month, discussed a proposal to open up all or some portion of 12 areas of the Outer Continental Shelf, six of which previously had been off-limits due to a quarter-century-old federal moratorium. Congressional Democrats allowed the moratorium to expire last fall amid intense voter anger over high gasoline prices.

The Louisiana event contrasted with the first meeting held in Atlantic City, N.J., where opponents of the offshore drilling program dominated the conversation. They said that the environmental risks of more offshore oil and gas development would jeopardize the tourism industry.

The difference between the meetings underscores how divided public opinion is in the U.S. about the touchy topic of increased access to offshore waters by oil and gas producers. Louisiana, a state whose fortunes are closely tied to the energy industry, seems more open to more offshore activity.

"In Atlantic City we had a lot more people talking about renewable energy," Salazar told journalists after the hearing. In Louisiana "it is not at all surprising for me that we have many advocates for oil and gas production because it's part of the life of the Gulf Coast," he said.

State officials told Salazar that although the public is concerned about the environmental risks of oil and gas drilling, the industry has improved its safety record and that it will remain the main source of energy supply for the U.S. in years to come.

"Although it may look like it could be a substitute to oil and gas production, reality is that renewable energy is just a fraction" of the energy the nation needs, said Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La.

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La, asked the Obama administration to look very hard at tax changes proposed in the new budget as they could become a heavy burden for the oil and gas industry, especially for small, independent producers that are large employers in Gulf Coast states.

Salazar said the Obama administration isn't at war with the oil and gas industry, but it is pursuing a balanced approach to energy resources that includes not drilling near sensitive environmental areas such as national parks.

"We won't be developing oil and gas everywhere," he said. "There are places where we believe is not appropriate to drill, in the proximity of national parks for example."

Salazar's next stop is Anchoragein Alaska, followed by San Francisco.  

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