The head of the American Petroleum Institute on Wednesday signaled a thaw in relations between major oil companies and the Obama administration, telling reporters that the White House has started more constructive talks with the lobby on energy development.
“We have noticed a marked change in our dialogue, perhaps just over the last three or four months,” API President Jack Gerard told reporters. “We have opened a dialogue that is constructive and we give credit where it is due: the president and his people are having a more open dialogue with us.”
Gerard made the comments just days after the Department of the Interior proposed new rules on natural gas drilling on public lands that were drafted to meet some industry concerns. On Monday, the department also finalized a new Utah gas drilling project sought for years by Anadarko Corp.
Also on Wednesday, API announced that it will hold a public forum on fracturing safety practices next Monday featuring an address by Heather Zichal, the White House Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change.
And in Texas, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe met with oil and gas industry representatives at a ConocoPhillips site near Midland to talk about voluntary plans to protect the dunes sagebrush lizard. The plans would meet compliance obligations if the service lists the lizard as an endangered species in June.
The White House and Interior Department had no comment.
The comments by Gerard come as congressional Republicans seek to reinforce their criticisms of President Barack Obama’s energy record as the fall elections draw nearer, especially on offshore drilling and the stalled Keystone XL pipeline.
House Republicans held three hearings on Wednesday to highlight what they say are the administration’s unwillingness to embrace oil drilling and to consider potential electricity shortages caused by environmental regulations that target coal.
Gerard declined to speculate why relations have improved. He offered the assessment during a teleconference in which he repeatedly declined to say that API will oppose the proposed hydraulic fracturing disclosure and well integrity regulations unveiled by Salazar last Friday.
He stressed that API still opposes duplication of state regulatory regimes that already apply to natural gas drilling on federal lands, in additional state and private lands. The proposal, over environmental objections, would allow drillers to disclose the chemicals used during drilling after operations are completed, a key demand by the industry.
Gerard called on the administration to assure the public that it considers fracking a safe technique that does not endanger drinking water supplies. “We think there is a real opportunity for us all to, once again, lock arms, talk about the facts,” he said.
In a post on the White House blog, Salazar on Wednesday touted the approval of the 3,600-well Greater Natural Buttes project in Utah, and the recent startup of the first utility-scale solar power plant on public lands. He said they exemplified Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy.