[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmvaZwHNinc]

One of the oil industry’s best friends in Congress imploded a standard GOP/industry talking point yesterday when, in the face of Sec. Sally Jewell’s facts, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) admitted that oil production is up on public lands. Watch the exchange!

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Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell showed up at today’s Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing loaded for bear, and she bagged an Alaskan grizzly.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski started her time by regurgitating often-repeated – and totally flawed – oil and gas industry talking points about oil and gas production on public lands. Sec. Jewell fired back, using actual statistics to point out the truth: onshore oil production on federal lands is at its highest level in more than a decade.

And when Sen. Murkowski, a true politician, tried to change the topic to offshore production, her colleague Sen. Al Franken, and Deputy Secretary of Interior David Hays pointed out that offshore numbers had (appropriately) dipped in the wake of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf – but that offshore oil production, and offshore drilling and exploratory activity are now back at pre-spill levels and growing.

Unable to dispute cold, hard facts, Sen. Murkowski was forced to acknowledge the truth. And her admission that oil production is up on federal lands demonstrates the need for a more balanced approach between energy development and conservation.

With onshore oil production at its highest level in 10 years, the Obama Administration should adopt an equal ground policy – conserving an acre of land for every acre they lease, consistent with the balanced approach achieved by Presidents such as Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush.

Sec. Jewell pointed out in her testimony that in 2011, recreational visits contributed an estimated $49 billion in economic benefits to local communities. Balancing appropriate energy production with protecting our treasured lands also attracts high-wage businesses and entrepreneurs to Western states – strengthening our economy for future generations.

As oil- and gas-funded politicians in the House and Senate get ready for yet another summer of pushing the same failed giveaways to oil and gas companies they’ve tried before, they’re going to have to deal with the same facts that stopped Sen. Murkowski in her tracks today. It’s tough to lose a top talking point.

A few other facts from Sec. Jewell’s testimony:

  • The amount of producing acreage continues to increase, and was up by about 200,000 acres between 2011-2012.
  • The 2010 onshore leasing reforms resulted in the lowest number of protests in 10 years – fewer than 18 percent of parcels offered in FY 2012 were protested.
  • BLM field offices’ processing and approval time for drilling applications fell by 40 percent between FY 2006 and FY 2012.
  • The Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, released in December 2012, estimates the number of people that rely on water from the Colorado River Basin could double to nearly 76 million people by 2060.


Sen. Murkowski, opening statement:  “A related concern is the rate of falling production on federal lands. It’s true that our nation is in the midst of an historic oil and gas boom, but it’s also true that production on federal lands is in trouble. Contrary to some of the statements of the rhetoric we’ve heard, oil production from the federal estate actually fell 5% last year after falling by even more than that in 2011. Natural gas production from the same federal areas meanwhile is in virtual free fall, down 8% last year and down 23% since 2009. The fact of the matter is that America’s energy boom is happening in spite of federal policies that stymie our production. We should be opening new lands to development, making sure the permits are approved on time, and preventing regulation and litigation from locking down our lands, and if anyone’s looking for a place to start, I’ll invite you to look to Alaska.”

Sec. Sally Jewel, responding in her testimony and opening statement said: “I want to start with energy, energy onshore. Onshore oil production on federal lands is actually at its highest level in over a decade, the amount of producing acreage continues to increase and I’m very happy, Ranking Member Murkowski, to provide you with some statistics that are a little different than the comments that you just referenced in terms of oil production. I have looked at the leasing reforms that the BLM have put in place, they changed them in 2010. They’ve actually had the lowest number of protests on lease sales in ten years, so we are making progress there, and I know the team is working hard on the time for permitting approval of new projects. That will be facilitated by automation. Sequestration has impacted that a bit but we’re still committed to getting that done….and now there are more deepwater rigs operating in the Gulf of Mexico than there were prior to the deepwater horizon spill.”

Sen. Murkowski, following Wyden’s first round of questions: “but I did just want to put a statement on the record, that, you had noted in your opening statement that oil production from federal onshore lands is at its highest level in over a decade, you had noted that perhaps our commentaries differed, I had noted that oil production from the federal estate actually fell 5% and the reference there, and I think it is important to just give some of the numbers here very briefly because I think it can be confusing. Federal onshore production was at 89.5 million barrels back in 2003, its gone up to 108.7 million in 2012, so you do have a substantial increase there, but it’s not the full picture, and that was my point. Because on federal offshore production we’ve seen that fall from 532.7 million barrels in ’03, to 438.6 million barrels in 2012, so what we’ve got is federal onshore production which rose by about 20 million barrels, and federal offshore production fell by 100 million barrels, more than five times the onshore increase. So I think that it’s important that when we’re talking about this we look at the full picture so if your numbers are different than mine, I’d be happy to share them.”

Sen. Franken, rebuttal: “Can I ask, did the moratorium after the BP oil spill… isn’t that really what caused that dip? I mean, (with laughter) we had a huge thing happen, and so there was a moratorium after that. Is that ok if I ask that of Mr. Hays?”

Deputy Sec. Hays: “Yes, Senator. It is true that oil production in the Gulf did decline because of the safety issues that arose and the need to upgrade our safety standards. The good news is that EIA recently reported a very strong upward trend now, in the Gulf. The Secretary mentioned a major discovery, there have been ten major new discoveries. There are now more than fifty rigs drilling in the offshore, lease sales are very strong that we’ve had and are having in the central Gulf and the western Gulf, so we expect to be back to where we were and further, but there certainly was a time that we did a pause, and increase the safety standard and change the way we did business and that did effect we believe temporarily in the offshore.

Sen. Franken: “I just wanted to clarify that.”