Gulf lease plan advances

07 20, 2012 by Daily Comet

A congressional committee approved legislation Wednesday that calls for at least one more oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico over the next five years.

That’s compared to the 12 Gulf sales proposed in President Barack Obama’s five-year plan, which is slated to go into effect in late August.

Republican lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee favor an alternative version that schedules 13 lease sales for Gulf waters beginning this year and held periodically through 2017.

The committee voted 24-17 to advance the bill, which has been titled the “Congressional Replacement of President Obama’s Energy-Restricting and Job-Limiting Offshore Drilling Plan.”

Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, a Republican from Washington, said the committee’s proposal is based on complaints aired by industry representatives and environmental groups.

“In stark contrast to President Obama’s plan that outsources American jobs and American energy, the bipartisan plan that passed today is an environmentally responsible drill-smart plan that will create jobs, grow our economy and lower gasoline prices with more American energy,” he said in a prepared statement.

When it was released last month, the president’s plan drew criticism from the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association and the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association for not creating more exploration opportunities in the Gulf and elsewhere.

Obama’s five-year plan outlines lease sales for the Gulf and Arctic waters only, and the Atlantic and Pacific coasts would remain closed to oil and gas activity.

Hastings said the committee’s proposal would open up drilling all along the western and eastern coastlines.

Environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council also argued there weren’t enough safety regulations in Obama’s plan, especially in light of the 2010 BP oil spill.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the administration is relying on “targeted leasing,” which means smaller areas of possible exploration that are expected to deliver big payouts based on the best available science and technology.

A vote by the full House is still needed on the committee’s proposal, and the traditional August recess is looming.

Regardless of what the House passes, the president maintains the authority to veto any legislation approved by Congress.

Sen. David Vitter, a Republican from Metairie, said Wednesday the president’s version would place a virtual moratorium on 85 percent of the nation’s offshore areas.

He said an alternative needs to be adopted to recover from the reductions Obama has made to his plan over the past year.

“Obama’s five-year lease plan for offshore production is only half of what the previous plan was.” Vitter said, “moving us in the complete wrong direction of where our energy production should be headed.”

Along with Sen. Jeff Sessions, a fellow Republican from Alabama, Vitter said he is filing his own leasing plan that would further open other areas in the Gulf and permit production in areas of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, as well as Alaska.

Vitter said it’s “more in line with the energy and economic needs of the United States” and a better deal for Louisiana.

He also pointed to a study released this week by the Congressional Research Service, which provides policy and legal analysis to members of the House and Senate.

Reviewing the past 37 years worth of five-year proposals, it found Obama’s most recent plan offers the fewest number of leasing opportunities dating back to former President Jimmy Carter.