Arkansas, Oklahoma governors talk U.S. energy policy at meeting of oil and gas industry officials

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 156 views 

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin on Monday (Oct. 3) celebrated the nation’s growing energy independence and offered hope that presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump would make energy policy a national priority and begin to debate more substantive issues.

Hutchinson and Fallin were keynote speakers at the general session of the three-day annual convention of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) held at the Statehouse Convention Center in downtown Little Rock.

The IOGCC is a multi-state government agency comprised of the governors of oil and gas producing states and other appointed regulators and representatives of state and federal agencies. The three-day event that ends Tuesday has included breakout sessions on topics ranging from ongoing state and federal regulatory matters and marginal well production to a discussion on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

During his speech as incoming chairman of the influential IOGCC, Hutchinson discussed myriad issues affecting the energy industry and where Arkansas stands in the national energy marketplace. He also offered frustration at the first presidential debate, saying neither Trump nor Clinton offered any substance on national energy policy or other critical issues facing the nation.

Speaking about the nation’s energy priorities, Hutchinson told the crowd of more than 400 IOGCC attendees that the nation was undergoing dramatic change because of advances in the energy industry. Among the changes is the nation’s shale development that has moved the U.S. ahead of Saudi Arabia, Russia and other countries as the world’s largest energy supplier.

“We should recognize the success in our country. I remember not too many elections ago that the major topic of debate among energy sources was that we were too dependent upon a foreign supply of energy and that they could hold us hostage and that our supply was in unfriendly territory,” Hutchinson told the roomful of oil and gas industry professionals and regulatory policymakers.

Hutchinson thanked the oil and gas industry officials and state regulators attending the meeting for working to develop new technologies and meaningful regulations that have transformed how oil and gas is extracted and transported to market.

“As a result of that, we have changed from an energy importing country to the world’s (largest) oil supplier,” Hutchinson said. “That is incredible. That is American ingenuity, technology and policymaking at its best.”

While discussing U.S. energy policy as a national security issue, Hutchinson said federal regulations are increasingly affecting how the industry operates. While not mentioning President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan directly, Hutchinson said he hopes that court rulings and more regulation won’t douse future energy development.

“And despite the opportunity from increased exploration, federal policy has shifted and is a concern for future supplies and what we do with it,” the governor said. “Coal is a regulatory target; gas could be next; nuclear power is not favored; and oil is necessary but not loved in some environments in this country. But yet, I believe diversity in the energy supply that includes all of these is necessary for our future.”

Before introducing Hutchinson as the IOGCC’s new chair, Fallin touched on how important it is for energy-producing states like Arkansas and Oklahoma to work together to ensure the nation’s energy independence.

“The responsible development of our own resources not only strengthens our economy, but by creating and retaining our jobs in the energy sector it also lessens our dependence upon foreign oil and foreign resources – making if more affordable for our own citizens,” Fallin said. “It also (helps) our national security, which is important to all us.”

Both Republican governors also offered several asides on the upcoming presidential election, expressing concern about GOP party nominee Donald Trump and his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. Fallin told the IOGCC audience they should be prepared for dramatic changes for the nation in January, no matter who is elected to the White House.

“The one thing that is constant is change. And we are going to have some change in November. Anybody disagree?” she asked. “We just don’t know what is it is – Right? Right! It is more important now than ever that our states work together, that we communicate and we talk and innovate and we find solutions to problems that face our whole nation. With a new administration coming in January, it is going to be important that we educate our public.”

In his closing remarks, Hutchinson told a story about how Stephen F. Austin almost became territorial representative to the U.S. Congress for the former Arkansas Territory in a pre-Civil War election. Of course, Austin lost by 70 votes and later left to become the founder of Texas.

“The moral of that story is think how history would have changed if he had won that election … there might not even be a Texas today,” Hutchinson said as the crowd roared with laughter. “Elections make a difference, so let’s keep that in mind.”

After the IOGCC meeting ended, Hutchinson and Fallin held a joint press conference and answered questions concerning their endorsements of Trump, while also expressing concerns about both candidates’ lack of focus on important policy issues.

“I would like to hear the candidates talk about (how) we don’t need to have a federal ‘heavy-hand’ when it comes to regulations of the energy industry – that has been our challenge with EPA and recent rules that are in litigation,” Hutchinson said. “I can’t believe there hasn’t been a question about the Keystone pipeline and our relationship with Canada that is reflected here at (IOGCC).”

Fallin, a vocal supporter of Trump, said that while she has personally talked to the Republican billionaire, she’s disappointed the candidates’ first debate last week did not focus on serious policy issues such as national security, energy policy and economic development.

Later, both governors also talked about earthquakes in both states related to hydraulic fracturing, or so-called fracking, from the oil and gas industry. Last month, Fallin declared a state of emergency for Oklahoma’s Pawnee County following a 5.6 magnitude earthquake over the Labor Day weekend. In response to the earthquake, Fallin said, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s Oil and Gas division (OGCD) is in the process of implementing a mandatory directive to shut down all Arbuckle disposal wells within a 725 square mile area near Pawnee. The area also includes 211 square miles in the expansive Osage County. That 2,300 square mile county is the largest in Oklahoma, and is home to the Osage National Reservation.

The Arkansas and Oklahoma governors also discussed their slightly differing views on the $2 billion Plains & Clean Line transmission project that starts in the Oklahoma Panhandle and traverses across the state of Arkansas into eastern Tennessee.

Fallin said she enthusiastically supports the renewable wind energy project as Oklahoma seeks to diversify its energy portfolio and lessen its reliance on oil and gas. Hutchinson said the federal Energy Department has already authorized the controversial multi-state wind-powered project, so he doesn’t have a position as governor on the viability of the development.

“There is no position needed by me. Now what I do advocate for, and what I have expressed, is that if we are going to have a transmission line going across Arkansas then we want to have a benefit from it in terms of access to the (line) for our receipt of some of that energy,” Hutchinson said.

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