Congress likely to back offshore drilling - API head

Other News Materials 15 November 2008 02:39 (UTC +04:00)

Lawmakers will not have enough support when Congress reconvenes to restore a complete moratorium on offshore drilling, American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard said on Friday, Reuters reported.

"I don't think there are enough votes in Congress to reinstate the blanket moratorium as it has existed before," Gerard told reporters at his first media round-table in Washington, D.C., as the new head of the lobbying group.

After a heated debate between Democrats and Republicans over oil exploration, Congress allowed the 27-year-old ban on drilling in most U.S. coastal areas to expire in October.

With gasoline prices rising above $4 a gallon this summer, Gerard said there is enough public support for expanding domestic production to keep lawmakers from restoring the ban.

He expects there will be a robust discussion, however, over whether to impose additional restrictions on U.S. energy production when Congress returns in January.

An aide to Democratic President-elect Barack Obama has said Obama will likely reverse an executive order by President George W. Bush allowing drilling in fragile lands in Utah.

Gerard, however, warns against imposing restrictions on offshore drilling. In particular, he pushed against the 50-mile buffer zone that was part of energy legislation that passed the House of Representatives before Congress adjourned.

He pointed out that beyond 12 to 13 miles from shore any energy equipment would not be visible to people on the coasts, and that a large buffer zone could significantly limit energy production. Also, he said the oil industry has demonstrated over time it can operate safely offshore.

"That's yesterday's debate," Gerard said. "The technology is there to protect the environment and the technology is there to bring these resources to the market for benefit of all Americans."

Gerard recently replaced Red Cavaney, who left the organization at the end of October, as president of API. Before coming to the institute, Gerard served as president of the American Chemistry Council.

Although Gerard said he is optimistic about working with the new Congress, he said it is too soon to know whether his group will be able to convince lawmakers not to support a windfall profits tax on the oil industry.

During his campaign, President-elect Barack Obama said he supported a five-year windfall tax on excessive profits of large oil companies.

Gerard said that the government should focus on gaining revenue through making more energy available, instead of punitive measures against companies.