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U.S. Must Strive for Energy Solutions

In debating the United States’ energy future, policymakers find themselves divided into two camps: those who seek to drill our way to energy independence and those who hope conservation and alternative sources alone can meet the challenge. The reality is the actual solution requires both. In Louisiana and across the Gulf Coast, we understand this dual track and have been at its forefront for generations.

Within the next five years, offshore production occurring near Louisiana’s coast in the Gulf of Mexico will account for more than 40 percent of the United States’ domestic oil production and 25 percent of the nation’s natural gas production. The region is home to more than 40 percent of the country’s refining capacity. More than 20 percent of the nation’s imported oil is shipped to the coast of Louisiana, where it is processed, refined and transported to urban centers across the country. Our vibrant coast is also home to hunting, fishing and ecotourism.

Louisiana is proud of its contributions to the U.S. energy supply and economy and of our advances in technology that improve environmental outcomes. Over the past 25 years, oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico has contributed more than $135 billion to the Department of the Treasury — making offshore development the third-largest source of U.S. revenue after income taxes and customs fees.

If we are to vastly improve energy security in the United States, we must explore and diversify domestic energy production in other areas of the country. The potential is enormous. There are significant untapped energy resources in the Outer Continental Shelf off the Pacific, Atlantic and Alaskan coasts — an estimated 41 billion barrels of oil and 187 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That is enough oil and natural gas to meet a quarter of the world’s energy demands for the next decade.

One critical step forward already has been taken. In 2006, I worked with Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and colleagues from Gulf Coast states to craft and pass the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act. This law creates a new, vital partnership between the federal government and the coastal states by allowing these states to share in the revenues generated by new exploration and production. The 37.5 percent portion now retained by the states will fund the restoration and protection of coastal wetlands.

This legislation passed with significant bipartisan support.

There are now other states that are considering allowing new exploration of their shores. Advances in technology have dramatically improved the production process and level of environmental protection. Over the past 20 years, the record of clean operations is impressive. New methods of energy production bear a closer resemblance to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s space program than they do to the derricks of an earlier time.

Congress is now at a vital juncture on our future energy policy.

Congress should appoint a high-level commission to study promising energy-rich offshore areas, particularly for natural gas. And commissioners should make specific recommendations on operating procedures and new technologies to mitigate concerns about environmental safety.

Congress also should ensure that U.S. leasing processes are structured to maximize production as well as provide value for the American taxpayer, to whom these energy resources belong.

Congress also must recognize the unique set of challenges in exploring frontier areas of the Gulf of Mexico, where water depths exceed 10,000 feet and oil and gas deposits are locked away more than 30,000 feet below the seabed. Ensuring that these resources are tapped safely and responsibly will take time, investment and advanced technology — a fact that should be accounted for in updating leasing rules.

In addition, the U.S. must make a massive new commitment to clean alternative sources of energy, including nuclear power and cellulosic biomass, that sustain the environment, support domestic manufacturing and improve the nation’s energy security.

Increased energy independence and sustainable energy production is within our grasp, but first we must make the reach. States such as Louisiana and its neighbors have illustrated the country’s potential for safe, economically beneficial production here at home. Reasonable steps can and should be taken to allow others to join the U.S. in this crucial national effort, while we also vigorously pursue conservation and new alternative energy sources.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

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