Western Energy Alliance lobbies Congress for rule changes

2012-04-24T23:45:00Z Western Energy Alliance lobbies Congress for rule changesBy MARTIN KIDSTON mkidston@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

CODY, Wyo. -- Members of the Western Energy Alliance headed to Washington, D.C., this week to lobby Congress for policy changes it believes are needed to ease oil and gas development across the West.

Predicting a rise in energy production over the next 10 years and with it, billions of dollars in potential revenue and investments, the alliance is asking Congress to put an end to lawsuits that obstruct domestic energy production and to enact a moratorium on new federal regulations, including those aimed at hydraulic fracturing.

Representing more than 400 companies engaged in energy development in the West, the group is also pushing for a retooling of the federal leasing and permitting process, and is asking that natural gas be allowed to compete with other energy sources for electricity generation.

"Some of these, or all of them, could increase the opportunity for the West to reach its full energy potential," said alliance spokesman Jon Haubert. "It's reforming the oil and gas process to make it better. We think it's due for a modernization."

Between the Bakken oil play in North Dakota and Montana, and the Niobrara in Wyoming and Colorado, the alliance says, the West could produce more than 1.3 million barrels of oil a day by 2020.

As for natural gas, the coalition said the West could see steady growth in production over the next decade, producing 6.2 trillion cubic feet by 2020.

Wyoming, Colorado and Utah will likely lead the way, with natural gas production expected to increase by 29, 21 and 42 percent, respectively.

"Oil and gas production in the Rockies, the West, is very real," said Haubert. "The production that can come out of that region is pretty big. We've known about the energy potential but now, thanks to technology, we can access that energy."

The alliance said that environmental regulations, including the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, and lengthy reviews and delays add an unnecessary burden to energy development.

The group on Monday released the policy recommendations it's asking Congress to consider, saying that retooling them would create jobs and help the nation move toward energy independence.

"Nearly every agency in Washington wants to regulate hydraulic fracturing," said Rep. Alan Olson, R-Roundup. "The states are doing a good job of regulating it now, and we feel that's where it belongs, at the state level."

Olson, chairman of the Montana Senate Energy Committee, planned to meet with Sen. Max Baucus on Tuesday and has meetings with Sen. Jon Tester and Rep. Denny Rehberg scheduled for Wednesday, along with congressional members from other states.

Olson said he supports the policy points released by the Western Energy Alliance. He doesn't see them as a loosening of current regulations but rather letting states manage energy development within their borders.

"We're going to consider pushing for state primacy on environmental issues," Olson said. "There are some things where the EPA has a cause and a purpose, but we feel as far as oil and gas goes, the states have had a regulatory mechanism in place since the turn of the century, and they're doing a good job."

Bruce Pendery, staff attorney and program director for the Wyoming Outdoor Council, said the policy points released by the Western Energy Alliance are an attempt to bend current federal regulations in energy's favor, taking away the public's right to voice concern while neglecting its desire for transparency.

"That especially relates to fracking," Pendery said. "There's a reason it's being regulated and will see increased regulations. There's real concern about it. We need this conversation because it's a deeply important issue."

Pendery said the alliance is attempting to dismantle longstanding federal regulations that help guide and monitor energy development. He said energy development has progressed in recent years, even with current regulations in place.

"The Western Energy Alliance wants to recast the die in its favor," Pendery said. "The whole purpose is self-promotion and self-benefit. It has nothing to do with benefiting society or public interest, but rather, self-economic interests."

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