On February 4, 2013, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, released her energy blueprint, entitled “Energy 20/20: A Vision for American’s Energy Future.” The plan had been in the works for over a year, and she described it as a way to start a conversation about our future energy needs.
She first unveiled the plan at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) Winter Committee Meetings, where she half-jokingly tied her plan to the previous night’s power outage in New Orleans during the Superbowl.
Later, she discussed the plan with reporters in the Senate press gallery. There, she laid out her basic premise that “energy is good.” Her bottom line was that the United States has built decades of energy policy to deal with fears of energy scarcity. She argued that policy now needs to be updated to reflect our growing abundance of energy. She used liquefied natural gas as an example, pointing to unused import terminals as an example of the rapid shift. She pointed to the cover of her plan, showing a map of the world at night. She said the prosperous areas are visible because they have energy to keep their lights on.
She repeatedly ticked off her five main talking points for the plan, saying that policymakers should work to make energy “abundant, affordable, clean, diverse and secure. Her plan is divided up into six chapters, producing more, consuming less, clean energy technology, effective government, environmental responsibility, and an energy policy that pays for itself.
Natural gas issues are scattered throughout. In the “producing more” section, she noted that directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing have dramatically increased both production and available reserves. She set the goal of combining new production of natural gas with biofuels and synthetic fuels to become OPEC independent by 2020. She argued that the federal government is hurting oil and gas production:
While trends on state and private lands are quite positive, oil production on federal lands remained largely ﬂat from 2003‐2011 …. Claims that very recent federal policies have had a signiﬁcant role in the increase in domestic oil production are therefore deeply misleading. About 96 percent of the increase in domestic oil production is attributable to growth on state and private land. Indeed,the overall domestic increase is in spite of federal policies that stymie production. We should reverse this trend and develop federal lands.
Her natural-gas related recommendations for increasing production included expedited permitting and review decisions, requiring estimates of available offshore resources, expanded offshore leasing, creating a new offshore-drilling regulator, enacting revenue sharing legislation, amending the oil-spill liability regime, establishing leasing programs, increasing production on tribal lands, and opening a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. She cited as a particular concern to natural gas the many new requirements for shallow water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
Regarding liquefied natural gas exports, she recommended that the government:
Carefully observe and evaluate DOE processing of applications for exports of Liqueﬁed Natural Gas (LNG), and, as necessary, update and clarify LNG export rules to provide certainty both to gas‐dependent industries and to potential investors in export facilities, ensuring that the U.S. moves toward improved trade balance and energy security. At the very least, expedite the process for Lower 48 LNG exports to allies of the United States that face emergency or chronic shortages but with whom we do not have free trade agreements.
She argued that “The United States will never run out of energy,” using the recent boom in unconventional production as evidence and this chart to illustrate:
She also devoted a good bit of energy to methane hydrates, urging additional federal research:
The U.S. contains an estimated 200,000 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of methane hydrates –methane natural gas locked in solid, ice‐like structures, underground or under the sea ﬂoor. According to the USGS, Alaska alone contains between 560 and 600 trillion cubic feet of methane hydrate on shore and approximately 160,000 TCF oﬀshore. Once safely unlocked, Alaska’s methane hydrate resources could power America for nearly 1,000 years at current rates of gas consumption, according to the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys (ADGGS).
She strongly supported alternative fuels in vehicles, saying diversifying our transportation fuel mix must be a priority. Natural gas was included in this discussion. She urged reform of the renewable fuels standard to ensure equitable treatment of the various feedstocks, an increase in research funding for drop-in replacement fuels, long-term federal investments in alternative fuels, repealing limits on federal procurement of alternative fuels, and creating metrics for measuring performance of federal agencies.
Under “Consuming Less,” she argued for steps to use less energy both per person and per unit of gross domestic product. She noted that great progress has already been made, as Americans used about 7 BTUs in 2011 for the same unit of GDP that took about 17 BTUs in 1949. She made clear however, that she does not consider driving the cost of energy up to be a method to reduce consumption. She singled out natural gas use by long-haul truckers as a leading opportunity to reduce the consumption of crude oil. She pointed out that many laws favor electric vehicles, and she argued that other alternative fuels, including natural gas, should be brought to parity.
Interestingly, natural gas was left out of her “clean energy technology” section.
In “Modernizing Energy Delivery Infrastructure,” she focused on the need to adopt to the increased role of natural gas. This included expanded pipeline networks both to capture gas being produced in new places and to get that gas reliably to new gas-based generators. She argued Congress should clarify the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) role and give it additional tools to move rapidly in approving new pipelines.
Under “Effective Government,” she reiterated many of her goals with a specific delineation of the role of the executive branch. She also encouraged the federal government to defer to state regulators on fracking operations. In the bigger picture, she argued for overall federal regulatory reform to reduce delays and red tape.
She considered “Environmental Responsibility” in a broad sense, noting that all energy sources have their risks and rewards. She acknowledged climate change and suggested the government could take actions to meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions without overly damaging the economy.
Finally, in “An Energy Policy that Pays for Itself,” she advocated for a portion of new revenue from oil and gas leasing to go to a “Advanced Energy Trust Fund” to invest in research and development.