House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) today unveiled a trio of proposals to accelerate oil and gas permitting in the Gulf of Mexico and expand leasing opportunities in areas with the greatest energy potential.
The bills, part of the GOP House majority's "American Energy Initiative," would create jobs, lower energy costs and generate additional revenues to pay down the federal debt, proponents said.
In the near term, while the proposal would mandate that drilling proposals receive safety reviews and well permits before beginning -- a current Obama administration regulation -- it also sets firm timelines for the Interior Department to act on applications to drill.
The first bill would require Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement to act on permits within 30 days, with the option of extending the deadline up to an additional 30 days.
Currently, BOEMRE has no deadline for acting on permits but must issue a decision on exploration plans -- a prerequisite to individual wells -- within 30 days, a timeline the Obama administration says is too short and has led to safety problems.
The bill also would require Interior to restart within 30 days the dozens of approved drilling projects that were halted last spring following BP PLC's massive oil spill in the Gulf. Separate language would ensure that production is not halted by "paralyzing, frivolous" lawsuits.
Hastings, flanked by seven House Republicans at a press conference this morning in the Capitol, said the acceleration of Gulf drilling was designed to end an Obama administration "de facto" moratorium in a "safe, responsible and transparent manner."
A second bill would require the Obama administration by June 2012 to hold four lease sales in the Gulf and offshore Virginia that it scrapped or delayed following the BP spill.
The third bill would require Interior to include leasing areas in the outer continental shelf that contain promising resources and to give specific states that request to participate a say in the agency's five-year leasing plans.
"The places we need to go are places where we know there are potential resources," Hastings said. "We are instructing this administration to look first to these areas."
While the bill does not specify which areas would be included in the plan, Hastings said optimal resources exist on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts "and certainly in Alaska."
"The resources are precisely in those areas," he said.
The bill also would require the Obama administration to set specific production goals in its five-year plans. The bill specifies that Interior's forthcoming 2012-2017 plan should strive to allow 3 million barrels of oil production a day, which would roughly double existing production levels in the Gulf.
Taken together, the bills allow Congress to assert its hand in the management of federal energy resources and would provide certainty in the permitting process, said Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research.
"Let's stop this green tape that wraps up all these things and provide a more direct and responsible and certain path of issuing permits," Kish said. "It doesn't demand that they be issued affirmatively, but it says you need to have a good reason if you don't."
But environmentalists have overwhelmingly praised the administration's move to limit offshore drilling around the continental United States in the near term, citing the damage caused by the BP spill.