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- Feb 17. 1973

Delays in offshore leasing
may derail U.S. energy plans

NEEDLESS political wrangling over leasing frontier offshore areas threatens to wreek the timetable of the U.S. energy program. It is crippling the nation’ s ability to reverse quickly its declining petroleum supply and is making a shambles out of strategy to reduce any time soon the distressing reliance on foreign oil.

It’ s accepted now that the best chance of adding significant oil and gas reserves by big discoveries rests in offshore exploration. The Ford administration recognizes this fact by making an ambitious program of offshore leasing an integral part of Project Independance. Even critics agree in principle.

BUT TIMES is running short.

U.S. oil and gas production is still declining. The shortage of gas already is being felt in plant shudowns in some areas with accompanying loss of jobs, cover the deficit, certainly not without heavy economic penalty, and any relief from alternate energy sources is years away . Unless U.S. domestic supply can be bolstered substantially, the only short-term option is increasing imports.

In the face of these facts, tragic acts are unfolding in Washington. The Environmental Protection Agency confounded administration plans by publicly asking for-year delay in leasing. And Sen. Hollings won surprising support in Congress for his bill that would delay and hamper any offshore effort even futher. The senator proposes to put the Governement into preleasing exploration , give Congress a veto over commercial leasing and development, and encourage coastal states to seek a delay in leasing plans for up to 3 years.

The chief argument advanced by proponents of delay is need for time to assure adequate environmental controls over offshore work and prepare for the economic impact on coastal states onshore areas.

FURTHER DELAY in leasing has no merit.

There’ s ample time to prepare these economic and social programs even if the administration proceeds now with leasing. It will be several years before any oil or gas can be brought ashore if leases were let immediately. It will take that time sufficiently to test enough structures and determine if commercial reserves exist. The environmentalists and concerned state governors can use this normal lag time to prepare for large-scale development. Delay will magnify future shortage without solving any current problems.

Putting the Government into exploration has even less merit. The private oil industry can test the prime areas quicker and cheaper under the existing structure. There’ s absolutely no advantage to the Government in becoming an active participant.

The nation’ s energy plight is complelling. The U.S. must shed regional politics and face facts. Legitimate needs for environmental controls, for revenue sharing, for setting up machinery to help states meet new economic burdens can be met. But senseless delay in getting a fix on the oil and gas reserves that may exist offshore is gambling with the nation’ s economic tuture.

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