PUBLIC LANDS:

Administration expresses support for e-leasing, offshore proposals

The Obama administration yesterday gave its backing to Republican-led bills to secure U.S. jurisdiction over offshore renewable energy and allow online onshore oil and gas lease sales.

The Bureau of Land Management not only expressed support for Internet live sale legislation (H.R. 2752), it also asked lawmakers to refine their proposal to scrap the current law that mandates quarterly lease sales.

"We believe that the ability to offer parcels through the Internet would give us the ability to offer them more frequently, maybe as frequently as the parcels are ready," Tim Spisak, BLM deputy assistant director for lands and minerals, said at a hearing of the House Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee. "If you had Internet set up, you could have parcels continually offered. We are just looking for more flexibility."

BLM said it wanted the ability to conduct online or oral lease sales more or less frequently than required under the Mineral Leasing Act and within states with available lease tracts and public interest. Lawmakers on the panel appeared receptive to the idea.

"I am cautiously optimistic that the administration is starting to hear the voice of the American people," said Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), a sponsor of the legislation, pleased with the administration response. Johnson said the legislation will "speed up sales, reduce fraud and ensure the best return for the federal taxpayer."

Republicans are also saying legislation by Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.) will help improve the economy by making sure U.S. vessels are used in offshore renewable energy, like installing wind turbines and transmission lines.

"At a time when our nation faces an average of 9.1 percent unemployment, this is exactly the kind of legislation we need to pass," Landry said. "We must increase opportunity for Americans to find employment."

Technically, the legislation (H.R. 2360) makes sure U.S. laws apply to "installations and devices" used for offshore renewable energy, just as they do for oil and gas.

"We believe it clarifies current law," said Walter Cruickshank, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement deputy director.

Joseph Orgeron, chief technology officer for Montco Offshore Inc., said the proposal "provides the market certainty necessary for us to make investments in the offshore wind energy sector." He said the legislation leaves "no question as to the applicability of a wide range of federal laws including those affecting employment, health and safety, and environmental protection."

Seabed mining

Within the effort to use resource initiatives for job creation, the GOP leadership appears to be embracing a proposal by Del. Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa)designed to boost U.S. competitiveness in offshore mineral exploration.

His legislation (H.R. 2803) directs the Obama administration to study U.S. technological capabilities and the economic feasibility of shallow and deep seabed mineral exploration and recovery. It also asks the Interior Department to identify potential mineral sites.

"In the U.S., the unrealized potential for economic benefit from seabed mining could be worth some hundreds of billions of dollars," Faleomavaega said in a statement, "from harvesting important minerals such as cobalt, nickel, copper, zinc, gold, lead and rare earths."

The delegate, who introduced similar legislation during the last Congress, laments lack of funding for American seabed endeavors, plus fierce competition by countries like China and Russia. The United States has also not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, something Faleomavaega sees as putting the country at a disadvantage.

Cruickshank said BOEMRE and the U.S. Geological Survey have the expertise required to conduct the study the legislation calls for. He warned, however, that provisions in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act governing seabed exploration and development would not apply unless extended to cover water offshore U.S. territories and possessions.

"The OCSLA only provided BOEMRE the authority to lease and permit mineral exploration and development offshore the 50 United States," he said.

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