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Hurricanes Heap Energy Supply Problems on United States
Date: Friday, October 28 2005
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Hurricanes Heap Energy Supply Problems on United States

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, October 27, 2005 (ENS) - It will take "many months" before the oil and natural gas infrastructure on the Gulf Coast is repaired and full production is restored, Interior Department Secretary Gale Norton told a Senate panel on Thursday.

Some 68 percent of the regionís oil production and 55 percent of its natural gas production remains offline due to damage from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Norton said, and repair costs will be in the "billions of dollars."

Norton said the slow recovery is due to the extensive damage as well as the "limited amount of repair equipment and skilled personnel."


Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman joined Norton at the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee hearing and told lawmakers the nation is dealing with an "extraordinary situation by the one-two punch of Katrina and Rita."

More than 50 percent of the Gulf Coastís oil and gas pipelines are either damaged or offline and 16 natural gas processing plants remain closed, according to the Energy Department.

"The hurricanes have clearly demonstrated the need for diversification of our energy supply," said Norton, who praised Congress for moving forward to open the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas drilling and touted the administrationís efforts to boost drilling in the West.

But lawmakers pressured the administration to push more aggressively offshore - in particular an area off the coast of Florida known as Lease 181.

The area, close to the Florida Panhandle in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, is not restricted under the federal moratorium that bars oil and gas development in some federal waters.

It was approved for leasing under the Clinton administration, but the Bush administration declared it off limits under an agreement with Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the President's brother.

"181 has to be done," said Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican. "We have been told it is the most significant act that can be taken to stabilize and possibly reduce the cost of natural gas. This shouldnít be delayed."
Norton said the Interior Department is revising its five year plan for lease sales in the region and the earliest it could open the area is July 2007.

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