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Prelude to a Cutback of Oil and Gas Development on Public Lands?

"Unfortunately, your Administration’s proposed offshore oil and natural gas leasing plan for 2012 to 2017 eliminates 50 percent of lease sales provided for in the previous plan, opens less than three percent of offshore areas to energy production, and imposes a moratorium on developing energy from 14 billion barrels of oil and 55 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and other Senate Republicans wrote Obama at the end of February. "The moratorium on exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, and persistent delays for permits in shallow and deep water leases, could result in a 19 percent decrease in production in 2012 compared to 2010, according to an Energy Information Administration projection."

"The oil rig count in the U.S. was 1,293 at the beginning of March 2012, the highest number in 25 years," the Senate Republican Policy Committee said in a March release. "But again, President Obama’s policies are not responsible as production increases have taken place on state and private, not federal, lands. A sample of federal lands shows offshore oil rigs in the U.S. have declined from 124 a year ago to 115 today.

"In fiscal years 2009, 2010, and 2011, the total number of acres of leased onshore public lands decreased from 45.4 million acres to 38.5 million acres. Even with more than five million new acres, the president’s administration leased during the first three fiscal years, the president has presided over a 15 percent reduction in total leased onshore public land."

Legislation in Congress that attempts to make it easier for production to move forward is predictably stalled in the Senate. The Jobs and Energy Permitting Act of 2011 -- which would streamline the EPA’s decision-making process for air permits, which is delaying energy exploration in the Alaskan Outer-Continental Shelf -- is delayed in the upper chamber after passing in the House last June. It is one of several energy-related House GOP bills rolled into the Western Economic Security Today (WEST) Act, introduced by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) last month.

Today, the House Natural Resources Committee passed the Natural Strategic and Critical Minerals Protection Act and the Native American Energy Act, which aim to reduce burdensome government hurdles and streamline duplicative and unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles to onshore American energy and mineral production while encouraging job creation and economic growth, say its sponsors.

"Due to restrictive and cumbersome federal regulations, many tribes have been unable to harness their own energy resources," said Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.). "The Native American Energy Act allows tribes more control over their land by streamlining government barriers to energy production.”

Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) said that every provision of the bill was requested by Indian tribes or Alaska Native Corporation leaders in a bid to remove the red tape "that stands between them and timely, efficient production of energy resources."

Touting reformed leasing procedures that are more "environmentally sound," the Interior Department noted that its report came the same day as the Bureau of Land Management's call for nominations and comments on available tracts to be considered for its scheduled November 2012 oil and gas lease sale in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.

“These lands and waters belong to the American people, and they expect those energy supplies to be developed in a timely and responsible manner and with a fair return to taxpayers,” said Salazar. “We will continue to encourage companies to diligently bring production online quickly and safely on public lands already under lease.”

But will their clarion call -- as producers would like to get cracking but are knee-deep in onerous regs -- be the prelude to a cutback of available oil and gas land?