When Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon in July 1969, he famously called it “One step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Unfortunately, here on Earth and with this Administration, progress is usually measured in smaller increments.
One example is the news that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is expected to approve roughly 3,500 new natural gas wells in Uintah County. Make no mistake, a project like this that has the potential to create 2,500 high-paying jobs in eastern Utah’s Uintah Basin and lower Utahns’ energy costs is good news. That’s why I encouraged the responsible federal agencies to reach agreement on the project proposed for 163,000 acres in the Greater Natural Buttes area.
Another incremental step in the right direction is the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s recent decision to OK 1,298 new natural gas wells on 207,000 acres in Uinta and Duchesne counties. This also will boost domestic job creation and energy production.
As good as these projects are, though, they are not enough.
We could do so much better if the Obama administration would quit closing off our federal lands to so many other proven forms of domestic energy development. That’s what happened in February when, the day following the President’s promise in his State of the Union address to develop “every available source of American energy,” the White House cut access to oil shale on federal lands in Utah and other western states by 75 percent and proposed a 50 percent royalty hike on energy production on U.S. public lands.
Like most of you, I find that incomprehensible. As I, along with other members of the Utah congressional delegation, told Secretary Salazar, such a policy makes little sense given the high price of fuel and the increasingly unstable and dangerous Middle East, especially when the U.S. Department of Energy has determined that our nation’s oil shale resources are roughly three times the proven oil reserves in Saudi Arabia.
In 2005, the Energy Policy Act that Congress passed by a large bipartisan majority recognized the importance of developing these fuels and called on the relevant government agencies to “coordinate and accelerate the commercial development” of oil shale and oil sands. In fact, after a three-year period of exhaustive study, stakeholder input and public comment required by that legislation, a final rule was put in place that set aside 2 million acres of land in Utah and other western states for potential oil shale development. Therefore, it defies common sense how, after that massive regulatory process and the work of countless government professionals, the Obama administration can arbitrarily discard that and reverse course.
We have the ability to wean our nation off its dangerous overdependence on foreign oil – much of it acquired from nations that are not our friends. We have the resources right here in our own back yard and in neighboring states to help our nation achieve its energy independence. And by boosting domestic energy production, we have the opportunity to lower our high national unemployment rate, which has stood above 8 percent for a record 39 months.
Yes, approving a few thousand natural gas wells in Utah is a good beginning, but it should not signal the end of developing our domestic resources. The White House needs to get serious about American energy – to quit making missteps and taking 10 steps backward for every step forward.
Instead of marking time, the President needs to get in step by coming up with a coherent energy policy that puts the American people – not environmental extremists – first.
And he needs to step on it.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah