OKLAHOMA energy segment embraces Bush plan

Saturday, May 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Stable oil and gas prices, a plus for Oklahoma's energy industry, could result from enactment of President Bush's proposed energy policy, oil and gas producers said Friday.

Environmentalists and Democrats criticized the plan unveiled Thursday, saying it would contribute to global warming and fails to rely on energy conservation. Farmers say the policy doesn't provide much-needed immediate relief from high fuel bills.

Utilities welcomed calls for evaluating the nation's electric transmission system and fuels for generating plants.

The Bush proposal calls for incentives for oil and gas drilling in restricted areas in Alaska and offshore and for economic incentives for enhancing recovery of existing reserves.

Altogether, incentives could encourage more investment in oil and gas drilling, which would help boost supplies and keep prices and industry employment stable, said Dewey Bartlett Jr., president of Tulsa-based Keener Oil & Gas Co.

``The public would not see, and we in the industry would not experience, the extreme highs and lows we've experienced in the last decade,'' Bartlett said.

Seesawing prices in the late 1990s scared away investors and oilfield workers, slowing reaction to rising prices while producers searched for cash to fund drilling and contractors tried to recruit crews to man idle rigs.

Banks were leery of lending to explorers they feared would be unable to repay loans when prices were low or gyrating, Bartlett said.

``I think it's good for the industry,'' said Larry Pinkston, chief financial officer at Tulsa-based Unit Corp., an oil and gas producer. ``It opens up a lot more drilling opportunities.''

But environmentalists rejected Bush's call for more drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and in other sensitive areas. Instead, conservation and the use of alternative energy supplies should be explored to cut demand, they said.

``President Bush is trying to hang a thin veil of energy efficiency over a cesspool of polluter giveaways,'' said Charles Wesner, chairman of the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club.

The plan would not clean up the state's air, prevent energy shortages or save money, he said.

Raising fuel efficiency standards to 40 miles per gallon on SUVs and cars within a decade would curb oil dependence and reduce emissions that contribute to global warming, the Sierra Club said.

The Bush plan makes 105 recommendations. Among them are calls to examine fuel efficiency standards and enact tax credits for energy conservation and development.

The Sierra Club and others say the Bush plan cuts programs for renewable energy development by 37 percent and whittles down energy efficiency research and development by 30 percent.

Bartlett said conservation alone cannot solve the energy crunch without drastic lifestyle changes.

Long-term viewpoints aside, farmers need help now, said Ray Wulf, president of the Oklahoma Farmers Union. During an upcoming harvest, farmers face low grain prices, potential record low yields and high fuel bills.

``It almost puts us in a situation that we can't afford to pull the combine in the field,'' Wulf said. ``We need some relief today.''

Paul Renfrow, a spokesman for the Oklahoma City-based utility, OG&E, said his company welcomed discussions on the future of the transmission grid and power generation.

``The plan probably puts the spotlight on a lot of issues we see everyday, issues truly worthy of discussion,'' he said.