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Plan Would Push Domestic Oil and Gas Development on Idle Acres

June 16, 2008

Bloomington, MN – Could lower fuel prices be in the nation's future? Congress may be considering new legislation this week that would double domestic oil and gas production and lower fuel costs - all without stepping onto controversial land in Alaska.

As Lois Norrgard with the Alaska Wilderness League's Minnesota office explains, oil companies are sitting on millions of acres of land elsewhere in the U.S., suitable for development but not yet being drilled. The legislation would compel companies to explore first in leased areas that they already control.

"There are 68 million acres of land in the United States that are already leased to oil companies, that they are not doing any kind of development on. And yet, they're saying we need to open up more of our pristine wildlands."

The legislation would assess fees for companies holding unused leases, which would escalate the longer land is idle.
Oil and gas companies argue that they're sitting on some leases because their potential isn't as great as the option of drilling in Alaska.

Norrgard says she and others suspect a different reason - to maximize profits. She believes oil companies are pushing to control as much land as possible, and then waiting until oil prices surge past $200 a barrel before they develop. In her view, such delays are cheating consumers at the pump, at a time when there also should be a sharper focus on energy alternatives.

"Our emphasis should not be on more oil. The fastest, cheapest way to solve our high gas price problem would be conservation; investing in clean, renewable energy sources; moving into a whole new energy field. We should be looking at a better way to help consumers at the pump, for the price we have to pay for our energy."

She notes Minnesota has a stake in where and how the nation's oil search proceeds, as well as strong ties to the Alaskan wilderness.

"The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the jewel of our refuge system, which reaches coast to coast. These areas were set aside as national treasures, and this is very important here on the ground in Minnesota. Many of us understand that, because we do have the Boundary Waters and great wildlife refuges."

A new study contends it would take a decade for oil from the Arctic Refuge to reach the market, and therefore would not have an impact on current gas prices.

Jim Wishner/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - MN