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August 2, 2006
Also appeared in print August 7, 2006, p. 16


Senate Approves Offshore Drilling

Chemical makers say bill could provide new supplies of natural gas and lower prices

Glenn Hess

Chemical industry leaders are hailing Senate passage of a bill on Aug. 1 that would allow oil and natural gas producers to drill in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, saying the measure could lead to lower energy costs for all U.S. consumers.

Robert B. SlaughterCOURTESY OF

Gerard (left) and Slaughter

"Today's historic bipartisan vote moves the country closer toward solving a self-inflicted energy crisis," American Chemistry Council President Jack N. Gerard remarked after the Senate voted 71 to 25 to pass the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 (S. 3711).

Robert G. Slaughter, president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, called the vote "a significant step forward in bringing additional supplies of domestic natural gas on-line."

The chemical industry has been struggling to pay record-high energy costs, particularly for natural gas, which it uses as a source of heat and power and as a key raw material. Since 2000, the U.S. has gone from having the least expensive natural gas in the industrialized world to having the most expensive.

"In that time, U.S. chemical manufacturers have lost more than $60 billion in business to overseas operations and more than 100,000 good-paying jobs have disappeared," Gerard said. "The stakes have never been higher for the chemical industry."

The legislation would open an 8.3 million-acre stretch of federal waters west of Florida that could hold some 1.26 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 5.8 trillion cu ft of natural gas, according to Interior Department estimates.

However, it is unclear whether the Senate will be able to reach a compromise with the House, which has passed much broader legislation that would lift the quarter-century-old drilling moratorium on outer continental shelf waters on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

Environmental activists fear offshore drilling could endanger the nation's coastline and prolong the U.S.'s dependence on oil and gas. "Instead of increasing drilling, Congress could be raising the fuel economy of our cars, encouraging the use of renewable energy like wind and solar power, and adopting other, existing energy-saving technologies that cut pollution, curb global warming, and create good jobs," said Sierra Club President Carl Pope.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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