Breaux urges industry to improve pitch for public lands exploration

If the oil industry wants to expand drilling on public lands, it needs to do a better job selling itself to those "outside the oil patch," Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) said Tuesday morning. But he said industry would not be able to persuade Congress to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 3�If the oil industry wants to expand drilling on public lands, it needs to do a better job selling itself to those �outside the oil patch,� Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) told a National Ocean Industries Association meeting in Washington, DC, Tuesday.

�The story is not being told as much as it should be,� Breaux said. The conservative Democrat is seen as a key powerbroker in an evenly divided US Senate.

�It�s not pretty, it�s not fun to deal with people that don�t know an oil field from a battlefield, but it has to be done� if companies expect to see comprehensive energy legislation pass this year.

To that end, Breaux and several Democrats met with US Vice-President Dick Cheney last week to discuss an eagerly anticipated report by an interagency task force that is drafting the administration�s energy proposals. The deadline for the report, once scheduled for late March, has slipped to �before summer,� according to those familiar with the process.

The task force is working on a 10-chapter draft that Breaux expects to be a combination of policy proposals designed to satisfy both sides of the aisle. White House officials will not go on record regarding the contents of the draft. Various agencies, industry officials, and environmental groups have bombarded the four-person White House task force staff with more than 800 recommendations.

One recommendation Congress will never approve is opening the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, Breaux predicted.

�ANWR will not happen,� he told the group. �It�s the Holy Grail of the environmental community.�

But industry can make the best of a bad situation by lobbying �getable� people in Congress on the benefits of offshore drilling. Breaux said more offshore areas might be opened to exploration �if we can explain to these guys that industry has learned from past mistakes � that some of this drilling is 20 miles offshore where you can�t see it.�

The senator also offered to supply a list of �educatable� congressmen to industry representatives who would lobby for lifting existing moratoriums. In many cases, those congressmen represent agricultural districts. Creating a coalition of farm and oil interests could be formidable, he suggested. �Farmers need to realize the fertilizer they use and the fuel in their tractor all comes from oil,� he said.

�Expand your base,� he told oil and gas company officials at the NOIA meeting. �We don�t have a choice.�

Breaux later told OGJ Online that without effective lobbying, important federal areas will remain closed to development. He predicted that the White House will direct the US Minerals Management Service to continue with the contested Lease Sale 181 in the Eastern Gulf as scheduled this December (OGJ Online, Jan. 29, 2001).

However, he said it would be much harder to lift the broad moratoriums both Congress and past administrations have placed on most of the US Outer Continental Shelf.

�We may see portions come off slowly but it is going to take awhile.�

There may even be resistance in Congress to block Sale 181, Breaux said, observing that House Committee on Appropriations Chairman C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) has indicated he may try to stop it with a legislative rider.

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