With a nod to H.L. Mencken, who made art out of presidential punditry nearly a century ago, the current president’s election-year energy campaign is rife with “balder and dash.” Consider two recent administration pronouncements – to allow offshore seismic testing and to expedite permitting for drilling on federal lands – each of which amount to quite a bit less than meets the eye.
Let’s look at the second one first. In North Dakota to see an energy boom in progress, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar pledged a new effort to speed up federal onshore permitting:
“…Salazar touted new automated tracking systems for managing lease sales and monitoring applications to drill wells on public lands that could pare processing time down to 60 days from nearly 300 now.”
Certainly, reducing the time it takes to process a federal permit application from nearly a year to two months is a positive step. Just as certain, it helps the administration sidestep the question of why operators currently have to wait up to a year to get a permit. Or maybe it doesn’t.
A study of Bureau of Land Management records showed there has been a slowdown in new leases, permits and wells drilled on BLM lands as a result of federal land energy policy. Declines in those categories were nearly twice as great on federal lands, compared to non-federal lands in western states. So, while the administration might be credited with moving to fix a problem, it’s a problem the administration has fostered. And more needs to be done. API Upstream Director Erik Milito:
“Today’s announcement sounds promising, but we would suggest additional reforms are needed. We support any system that will ensure efficiency and a clear, consistent application process. Most important, the administration needs to streamline the multi-year timeframe for environmental reviews and open additional areas for responsible energy development.”
Then there’s this: The U.S. Chamber’s Sean Hackbarth notes a flip-flop in the administration’s new zeal for expediting onshore permits:
“Improving the permitting process is never a bad thing. … However, what the department is touting is not a new innovation. The program they dug out is the same one they’ve been trying to eliminate the last three years.”
Hackbarth then links to the administration’s past four budget requests, each of which asked for repeal of the program it now touts:
“The Interior Department is taking credit for a program they have consistently tried to shut down, similar to taking credit for increased oil production that resulted not from its own policies, but, rather, from those implemented by previous administrations.”
Balder. Now the dash.
Last week the administration said it would allow seismic testing for oil and natural gas along parts of the East Coast, suggesting it supports more offshore development. Yet, the White House has banned lease sales in the Atlantic for at least the next five years – meaning seismic research there has no ultimate purpose. Milito:
“This is political rhetoric to make it appear the administration is doing something on gas prices, but in reality it is little more than an empty gesture. The administration’s announcement does not put us on track to produce more of our own energy, and it does not make up for three years of failed energy policy. It continues the pattern of delaying U.S. oil and gas development and supplies until well into the future.”
Bottom line: Beware of election-year flourishes and fan dances. This administration has a nearly four-year record of actions amounting to an off-oil policy – one that’s terribly inconvenient as Americans grapple with higher fuel costs. Hence, the need to look busy on energy – summoning another Mencken aphorism: “flap and doodle.”