House passes expanded 5-year OCS plan; senators offer similar bill

US Senate Republicans and Democrats offered similar legislation as the US House adopted a bill that would replace the Obama administration’s proposed US Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas program for 2012-17 with a significantly expanded series of lease sales.

The White House said it would veto HR 6082 before it cleared the House by 253 to 170 votes. Introduction by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.) of a similar bill with at least three Democrats—Mark R. Warner and James A. Webb of Virginia, and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana—as cosponsors puts pressure on Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) to at least allow debate on the matter.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), HR 6082’s primary sponsor, said he was pleased when he learned of the Senate bill. “The clock is ticking, and it’s now time for the Senate to act,” he observed. “Congress has 60 days to review the president’s proposed plan, and it’s the Senate’s turn to heed the call of the American people who want more American energy and more American jobs.”

The House approved HR 6082 after it rejected HR 6168 by 164 to 261 votes. That bill would have implemented the proposed 5-year OCS program US Sec. of the Interior Ken Salazar announced on June 28, which scheduled 12 lease sales in the central and western Gulf of Mexico and parts of the eastern gulf that are not covered by a congressional negotiated moratorium, as well as two sales toward the end of the period in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas following extensive scientific reviews of potential impacts and one in Cook Inlet if there is enough industry interest.

HR 6082 would schedule 29 lease sales over the 5-year period from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2017, off of Virginia, southern California (from existing infrastructure), north and mid-Atlantic states, and in the eastern gulf and the North Aleutian basin as well as the central and western gulf and Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

Tap into renewal

Responding to the bill’s passage, Independent Petroleum Association of American Pres. Barry Russell said on July 25 that HR 6082 would let states like Virginia, which have wanted to explore their energy potential, to tap into the energy and economic renewal that has been sweeping the country. “Development of offshore oil and gas would revitalize coastal economies from Southern California to South Carolina, and the economic benefits would ripple from coast to coast,” he maintained.

Environmental organizations were appalled, however. “In what has become a hallmark theme for this Congress, [House Republicans] are trying to upend reasonable policy from the Department of the Interior—this time about drilling off our coasts—and replace it with reckless policies that benefit only the oil and gas industry,” said David Moulton, senior director of legislative policy at the Wilderness Society.

Murkowski’s bill—the Offshore Petroleum Expansion Now (OPEN) Act of 2012—would add 12 lease sales to those the Obama administration scheduled in its proposed program, which Congress has 60 days to review following its release. The Senate measure also would share federal revenue from new offshore leases with participating coastal states. It would add sales off the mid-Atlantic coast, including Virginia, and allow exploration from existing infrastructure off southern California in addition to more sales off Alaska’s northern coast.

Murkowski, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s ranking minority member, said that the OPEN Act “sends a clear message that America is serious about developing its energy resources to fuel an economic recovery.” Another Republican on the committee, John Hoeven (ND), was expected to announce an energy and jobs bill with Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate’s ranking minority member, on July 26.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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