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Obama campaign: Oil companies, speculators to blame for rising gas prices

The North Carolina Obama campaign said Tuesday that the administration had worked to make energy more available, and blamed rising prices on oil companies and speculators.

Democratic Congressman Brad Miller, speaking as a surrogate for the campaign, said there is more domestic oil production than at any time in the past eight years and more natural gas production than the nation has ever had.

“North Carolina voters know where the responsibility really lies,” Miller said in a teleconference. “They place the blame with the oil companies. They place the blame with speculators and they know perfectly well there has been an extraordinary effort in the Obama administration to increase energy production.''

House passes bill in support of off-shore drilling, gas fracking

In a largely party-line vote, the state House approved a Republican-backed bill that rewrites state energy policy to promote and approve of the drilling of natural gas on land and off the coast.

Supporters of Senate Bill 709 said drilling would create revenue for the cash-strapped state government and jobs for North Carolinians by creating a regulatory atmosphere that is more "pro business."

Republican lawmakers brushed aside concerns raised by Democrats about the potential for an off-shore spill to negatively impact coastal tourism and the possible contamination of drinking wells through the use of a controversial gas drilling technique that relies on the hydraulic fracturing underground rock, known as fracking.

"It's time to get crackin' on frackin'," said an enthusiastic Rep. John Blust, a Greensboro Republican. "If we're worrying about tourism, do you think $4 a gallon gas is going to affect tourism. We need more fossil fuels in this country."

Democrats objected to the often-repeated GOP talking point that drilling for natural gas will reduce gasoline prices and reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil. There are not believed to be sizable deposits of oil off the North Carolina coast.

After a study was quoted as saying that increased domestic oil production would have a negligible impact on gasoline prices, Blust countered that such economic analyses were produced by "whackos in an ivory tower."

An attempt by Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat, to amend the bill to add renewable energy sources such as wind power and wave power to the list of options for creating new energy was defeated.

Harrison pointed out that tourism generates many more jobs and revenue in the state than even the most rosy of forecast for drilling.

"We have a tourism economy that depends on a clean coast," Harrison said.

Republican supporters countered that the bill designates the first $500 million the state earns through off-shore drilling royalties to a special fund to clean up the environmental damage from any accident or spill.

The bill, a version of which has already passed the Senate, was approved 67-44.

Etheridge touts speculation bill

U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, in town during the summer congressional recess, gave a talk in Raleigh today about energy prices.

He talked about his bill to boost the number of federal investigators of excessive oil speculation, saying, "Right now, we need more cops on the beat," according to his prepared remarks, Barb Barrett reports.

His bill failed in the House of Representatives in a vote that required the support of two-thirds of the House members, but he hopes to return it to another floor vote in September, when it will require only a simple majority to pass.

Etheridge also talked about his support of Democratic legislation that requires oil companies to search for oil on 68 million acres of land already leased for drilling from the federal government. That bill failed along party lines, with Republicans opposed.

Etheridge, a Lillington Democrat, spoke to county commissioners from the Second Congressional District, which includes Johnston county and a portion of Wake County.

Dole and the 2005 energy bill

Majority Action has revisited an earlier claim about the 2005 energy bill.

In a radio ad over the Fourth of July weekend, the liberal 527 organization attacked U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole for voting for the bill.

And in a new TV ad that began airing today, the group again repeated its claim that Dole has voted to give "big oil companies" billions in tax breaks. Text in the ad cites the energy bill.

As we noted the first time, that charge is misleading.

As the nonpartisan FactCheck.org has reported, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 included tax cuts of about $2.6 billion for oil and gas companies, but it also included tax hikes worth about $2.9 billion, for a net increase of nearly $300 million over 11 years.

"The breaks that the oil and gas industry received were more than offset by tax increases contained in the same measure," FactCheck.org noted.

How much oil does the U.S. have?

Does the United States have 2 trillion barrels of oil?

A radio ad touting an energy bill cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole says that the United States is "home to a vast supply of oil, estimated at over 2 trillion barrels."

The ad appears to be referring to the Green River Formation, a giant untapped oil shale deposit in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

A 2005 report by the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit think tank based in California, estimated that the Green River Formation holds between 1.5 and 1.8 trillion barrels of oil, of which roughly 800 billion barrels are recoverable.

"Present U.S. demand for petroleum products is about 20 million barrels per day, so 800 billion barrels would last for more than 400 years if oil shale could be used to meet a quarter of that demand," the think tank noted in a brief.

However, it added that there are technical problems.

"Assuming the private sector decides to invest in oil shale development and production, we expect that an oil shale industry capable of producing more than a million barrels per day is at least 20 years off," it said.

Offshore drilling, political football

Offshore drilling has become a political football in the Senate race.

The campaign of Democratic nominee Kay Hagan has been attacking U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole for voting against ending debate on a bill that would take on excessive speculation in oil futures.

"When push comes to shove, and there’s an actual vote Dole needs to cast, she’s with the special interests and against the people who elected her," said Hagan spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan in a statement.

Dole's Congressional staffers, meantime, say that the senator and other Republicans wanted the chance to amend the bill to deal with other energy issues. Among them was an amendment to end the ban on offshore drilling.

They complained that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cut off debate.

"They shut down debate and they shut down amendments," said Dole spokesman Wes Climer. "Senator Dole is working hard to develop a comprehensive solution that not only includes market fairness but also conservation and alternative energy sources."

At least 158 amendments were offered for the bill.

McCrory: Offshore drilling a NIMBY issue?

Pat McCrory said offshore drilling is part of a long-range plan.

At a press conference this afternoon in Raleigh, the Republican gubernatorial nominee said that he recognizes that natural gas and oil exploration off of North Carolina's coast would take years to have an effect on the energy market.

But he argued that it would affect speculators, who consider the long-range availability  

"If not here, then where?" he asked, saying the alternative would be to rely on countries he characterized as essentially dictatorships. "If we're not willing to drill off our own coasts, then where will you drill? Off Venezuela? Off Nigeria? Saudia Arabia, Russia?" 

The Charlotte mayor said that anyone who drives daily and opposes drilling is "hypocritical."

"What you're really saying is 'I'm willing to take oil from someplace else except for my own backyard,'" he said.

McCrory said that drilling would be just one part of his energy plan. He said he would push for more mass transit across the state as well as more wind, solar and nuclear power and more efficient state buildings, among other conservation measures. 

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