Republicans push to drill in Alaska, limit CO2 regulation

Not yet a year after the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, Republicans are renewing efforts to drill for oil and gas in a fiercely contested Alaskan wildlife refuge. Moving one day after President Barack Obama's unveiled a plan to cut U.S. oil imports by a third over 10 years, Republicans will unveil a bill to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The bill would also force the Interior Department to hold lease sales for offshore areas, a Republican aide said. The Republican bill faces an uphill battle for passage with Democrats in control of the Senate and White House, but could open a bargaining process in a Congress where energy bills have stalled since the failure of the climate change legislation effort last year. Issues such as opening the arctic refuge and restricting EPA regulation of carbon dioxide provoke intense opposition from many Democrats. Sponsored by around 30 lawmakers, including Senators David Vitter and Jim DeMint, the legislation would also amend the Clean Air Act so that carbon dioxide could not be regulated as a pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency.

More drilling permits for Gulf in the works

The door could now be open for a "significant" number of new offshore drilling permits, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on Wednesday, as the administration comes under increased pressure to tackle surging world oil prices. The Interior department on Monday issued a permit for a deepwater well co-owned by Noble Energy Inc and BP, the first such permit since a rig explosion unleashed millions of barrels of oil from BP's Macondo well into the Gulf of Mexico last year. "There are other deepwater permits that are pending and the ones that will go out the door will hopefully be the templates that will allow us to move forward with an additional, significant number of deepwater permits," Salazar told a Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee hearing. After the BP oil spill, the department imposed a temporary ban on exploratory drilling at depths of more than 500 feet. While the moratorium was lifted last October, no new deepwater permits were issued until this week. The department has faced intense criticism, as well as legal action, over the slow pace of permitting.

BP workers could have prevented rig accident

BP had workers on the doomed Deepwater Horizon rig who could have prevented the missteps that led to the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but they were not consulted, the White House oil spill commission said on Thursday. In an expanded report on the causes of the BP drilling disaster that killed 11 workers and ravaged the U.S. Gulf coast last summer, the commission released new details about the events that preceded the BP accident. The commission's investigators said BP workers failed to ask a knowledgeable company engineer who was visiting the rig about unexpected results from a critical negative pressure test on the rig. "If anyone had consulted him or any other shore-based engineer, the blowout might never have happened," the commission said in a statement.

U.S. to ease requirements on some deepwater projects

The Obama administration on Monday eased new environmental barriers to some oil and gas deepwater projects, but companies will still have to meet stringent regulations before drilling resumes. Oil companies and Republican lawmakers have complained that regulations imposed after the BP oil spill have brought Gulf of Mexico drilling to a standstill. The department's decision to waive some environmental requirements comes as Noble Corp announced that Marathon Oil Co canceled a four-year, $752 million contract for a deepwater rig in the Gulf due to lack of drilling permits. The policy will impact 13 companies with projects that were already underway when the department imposed its ban on deepwater drilling. Companies will be able to forego additional environmental reviews depending on new calculations of the worst-case flow rate estimates for their wells.

U.S. court rules Texas cannot delay EPA – mandated greenhouse gas rules

A federal court on Wednesday blocked an attempt by Texas to delay the Environmental Protection Agency's plans to impose carbon regulations in the state early next year. The state of Texas is suing the EPA to prevent the agency from forcing it to issue greenhouse gas permits for the biggest polluters when national carbon rules take effect in early January. Until there is a ruling on the case, Texas asked the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to block the EPA's mandate that the state expand its pollution regulations to include greenhouse gases. The court denied the request. The EPA issued a finding last year that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare. Since then the agency has moved forward with developing rules under the Clean Air Act to limit emissions blamed for climate change.

EPA postpones smog rule again

The Environmental Protection Agency said on Wednesday it was again delaying its final rule on smog limits, with the rule now expected by the end of July 2011. This is the third time the agency has delayed the smog standards, originally slated to be finalized in August. The initial standards proposed near the start of this year would limit ground-level ozone, or smog, to between 60 and 70 parts per billion measured over eight hours. The proposal was stronger than 2008 standards the Bush administration set. Environmental groups criticized those for being less stringent than government scientists recommended.

New report highlights key reasons for BP well disaster

Lacking standards to weigh costs against safety, BP and its partners made critical errors leading to the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, according to a scientific panel report obtained by Reuters on Tuesday. Interim findings from the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council attribute the massive spill to workers' decisions to move ahead with temporary abandonment of BP's doomed Macondo well despite warning signs from a key test of well integrity. "The various failures mentioned in this report indicate the lack of a suitable approach for anticipating and managing the inherent risks, uncertainties ... associated with deepwater drilling," the report said.

EPA defends planned rules over power concerns

The Obama administration is defending its plans to crack down on industrial pollution after a report from a utility group found proposed regulations may result in tighter U.S. power supplies. The North American Electric Reliability Corp released a study on Tuesday that found four possible Environmental Protection Agency rules could "accelerate the retirement of a significant number of fossil fuel-fired power plants". Utilities may have to replace or make efficiency gains for up to 70 gigawatts, or about 7 percent, of U.S. power generation by 2015, the study said. The EPA disputed those findings on Wednesday, saying the report by the industry group relied on faulty assumptions. "By NERC's own admission, its projections about electricity supply impacts rest on its own fortune-telling about future regulations that have not even been proposed yet," EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said in a statement.