Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry
August 2010

Vol. 15, No. 31 Week of August 01, 2010

‘Energy reality tour’ hits Anchorage

US Chamber executive urges RDC audience to get involved to ward off unfriendly federal laws brewing in the wake of Gulf oil spill

Wesley Loy

For Petroleum News

Karen Harbert, the featured speaker at a recent Resource Development Council for Alaska luncheon, apologized to her audience in advance for causing indigestion with her speech.

Business and industry players, she said, had better get involved or else face some unfavorable new laws from Washington, D.C., in the wake of recent resource industry disasters including BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The oil industry is experiencing a lockout from highly prospective acreage all around the country, she said.

“I pray the BP oil spill is not our Three Mile Island,” said Harbert, referring to the 1979 accident that did much to stymie further development of the nuclear power industry.

30-state tour

Harbert is president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy. She previously served as a U.S. Department of Energy assistant secretary.

Part of Harbert’s job is testifying before Congress, and keeping an eye on legislation the lawmakers are considering.

She told some 1,000 listeners at the RDC annual meeting July 21 in downtown Anchorage — the RDC is a nonprofit organization for the oil, mining, fishing, timber and tourism industries — that the energy sector and business in general are facing excessive and invasive laws and regulation.

To spread the word and urge business people to get involved, she’s flying around the country on an “energy reality tour.” The tour is expected to hit 30 states by the end of 2010.

In an interview with Petroleum News, Harbert said the BP spill and the West Virginia coal mine explosion in April that killed 29 men spurred the reality tour along.

Harbert, in her speech, ticked off a string of troubling problems dogging the nation and business community, from the $13 trillion national debt to 10 percent unemployment to a shortage of engineering graduates to what she termed the BANANA effect — Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.

Aside from legislation burdensome to business, the Environmental Protection Agency is generating a regulatory and litigation “cascade,” Harbert said.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, concurred. Speaking to the RDC crowd via video link from her Washington office, Murkowski said the EPA has begun 700 separate rulemakings in the past 15 months.

Call to action

One new proposal in Congress would hit the oil and gas industry with $80 billion in taxes, Harbert said.

“Because you guys are rich, right?” she told the RDC audience.

The government’s moratorium on deepwater drilling is killing jobs, and legislation to prevent oil spills could go too far and do serious economic damage, Harbert said.

“So we have proposals in front of us that are shedding jobs, can potentially increase energy costs, can potentially increase imports,” she said.

“I’m not optimistic that without a huge outpouring of support from the business community we will be able to get the message through that Americans support oil and gas exploration,” she said. “Seventy percent of Americans still support onshore and offshore exploration.”

Congress and many Americans simply don’t see the priorities the same way, Harbert said.

“Energy is still very, very important to the American public, second to jobs,” she said. “That should be a huge platform for policymakers to grab hold and do something sensible on energy. But instead they’re focused on what the American public is not so focused on right now — climate change.”

“We all want to be good environmental stewards. We just don’t want to have climate legislation, regulation, litigation placed on us” in a way that could force people out of business, Harbert said.

She concluded: “Really what’s at stake here is our investment climate. The decisions we make are going to be hard to undo, so we better make some smart ones.”

For more information on the Institute for 21st Century Energy, visit www.energyxxi.org.

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