US House okays bill aimed at streamlining OCS permit decisions

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, June 23 -- The US House of Representatives approved a bill that would require a final federal decision on applications to drill on the US Outer Continental Shelf within 6 months. HR 2021, which would amend the Clean Air Act, passed by 253 to 166 votes the evening of June 22.

The bill, which was cosponsored by Reps. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Gene Green (R-Tex.), included a provision that would establish a drillship or production platform as a stationary OCS emissions source when drilling commences until it either ends or is temporarily interrupted. It also would disqualify the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Appeals Board from reviewing or invalidating an OCS oil and gas air quality permit, transferring that authority to a federal court.

“Today’s action by the House builds on previous legislation to stop EPA from imposing a job-crushing energy tax and end the Obama administration’s de facto moratorium on offshore energy,” House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said following the vote. Committees are working on more legislation to expand US energy production, create jobs, and block policies that drive up prices, he added.

US Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.) introduced a similar bill on that side of the Capitol on June 17. She said under the current system, offshore producers who have paid billons of dollars for OCS leases outside the central and western gulf are subjected to an endless regulatory loop before EPA’s appeals board, which is made up of environmental attorneys who are neither confirmed nor authorized by Congress.

“We have companies that have spent more than 5 years attempting to conduct offshore exploration and production in Alaska, but have been unable to secure the necessary permits from EPA,” Murkowski said as she introduced her bill. “It’s clear that this process is not just overly costly, but simply does not work.”

‘A necessary step’
The American Petroleum Institute welcomed HR 2021’s passage in the House, indicating that the measure would reduce uncertainty in EPA’s air permitting process for oil and gas activity in OCS regions outside the central and western gulf, where Interior issues air quality permits.

“Streamlining the EPA permit process is a necessary step for removing roadblocks to developing America’s energy resources,” API Executive Vice-Pres. Marty Durbin said on June 22. “This legislation will also establish an efficient system for future leasing of OCS frontier areas.”

National Ocean Industries Association Pres. Randall B. Luthi said that HR 2021, along with others passed by the House, would set a firm foundation for the nation’s future. He expressed hope that the Senate would pass similar legislation soon.

“Offshore oil and gas is the great untapped home grown source of reliable, reasonably priced energy for the United States,” he observed. “We cannot go to the pump without feeling the pain induced by having to rely upon foreign sources for over 50% of our oil. For some reason, we remain content to look to the Middle East or South America to buy oil and gas that we could produce at home.”

He said, “Other countries, including Cuba, are actively searching their offshore lands for oil and gas and we consumers will be actively searching our wallets to pay for foreign oil. The passage of HR 2021 will help change that.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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