MEAD, CO—Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) introduced a bill Monday that seeks to offset any drawdown of the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) with corresponding increases in oil and gas leases on Federal lands in order to promote domestic energy production.
“I can’t think of any better way to power our economy, to get jobs created, to make sure that we’re doing everything we can for businesses around this country than to unleash the power of our energy sector,” said Gardner.
The Colorado Republican was particularly concerned with rising gas prices and the effect such a rise has on the economy. He argued that the reserve has become attractive as a political tool to combat escalating gas prices, especially important in an election year.
Gardner’s bill seeks to minimize just such a temptation, while providing a mechanism for counteracting the drawdown with an increase in domestic energy production.
“It’s not about political fixes. It’s not about political solutions,” said Gardner, referring to the reason for the SPR. “If we’re going to address the issue, the policy problems created by high gas prices, the let’s do it by increasing domestic production, weaning ourselves off of foreign, overseas oil.”
According to the bill’s text, Gardner’s plan would tie potential SPR consumption, for whatever purpose, to a similar increase in the amount of Federal lands made available for leases to oil and gas production at a constant level. Gardner’s bill calls on the Secretaries of Agriculture, Energy, and Interior to develop an offset plan within 180 days of any announcement of SPR drawdown, and limits offsetting leases to no more than a 10 percent increase.
“Let’s make sure we’re doing what we can in our own backyard to gain our energy independence and to create American jobs with American energy,” Gardner said.
Gardner took issue with recent statements from the Department of the Interior that challenged an assertion made by the Congressman and his Republican colleague, Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-CO, that domestic energy production had not increased under the current administration. According to the Denver Post, the Colorado representatives were “just plain wrong.”
Gardner shot back Monday morning.
“This is an instance of the administration trying to have it both ways,” charged Gardner. “President Obama saying he’s increased production is a little bit like the rooster trying to take credit for the dawn. We’ve seen energy production increase on private resources where the president doesn’t have the ability to stop it, but we’ve actually seen production on federal lands and waters, both offshore and onshore, actually decrease in 2011.”
Gardner questioned the president’s concern for an “all of the above” energy strategy, citing the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline project.
Gardner also sought to allay concerns centered on the controversial fracking method, pointing in part to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s support for the extraction method, but also to what he saw as the successes shown in places like Weld County, where the press conference occurred.
“We have an obligation to responsibly access energy, whether it’s in Weld County or beyond,” said Gardner. “We always need to do everything we can to do what’s right by the environment and do what’s right with responsible rules and regulations.
Gardner said he expects strong bipartisan support for his bill, but said it was unclear how large the potential drawdown “on the table” could become.
The SPR’s vast crude oil reserves have been used sparingly, most notably during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and following Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the Gulf Coast in 2005.
“The Strategic Petroleum Reserve was established for a true emergency disruption of our energy supplies—a natural disaster, a war—and the previous times has been for [Hurricane] Katrina. But what we saw last year was President Obama tap into it because of a political concern that gas prices were too high,” said Gardner, accusing the administration of politicizing the reserve.
The June 2011 announcement of an SPR drawdown came during the “Arab Spring” movement in Libya that created concerns over oil supplies.
The creation of the SPR is a legacy of 1970s oil supply disruptions that led to an energy crisis following the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. The 727 million barrels of oil would provide more than a month’s supply of oil at current daily consumption rates for the United States.