Lawmakers ask feds to consider new waters in offshore plan

02 08, 2012 by Fuel Fix

A group of 182 lawmakers, almost all of them Republicans, asked the Interior Department on Tuesday to consider opening new offshore waters for oil-and-gas drilling in its five-year offshore leasing plan.

Led by Reps. Rob Wittman, R-Va.; Gene Green, D-Houston; Jim Costa, D-Calif.; and Bill Flores, R-Bryan, the lawmakers told Interior Secretary Ken Salazar they were “disappointed” that the department’s proposed 2012-2017 plan for the outer continental shelf doesn’t include waters that industry hasn’t had access to yet. The members write that opening new areas “will bring new jobs, new energy, and new revenues to the Treasury — all at a time where each of these benefits is desperately needed.”

“We continue to believe that any new five year leasing plan should allow for the consideration of expanding into new areas, such as offshore Virginia,” the 167 Republicans and 15 Democrats wrote in a letter.

Some environmental and safety advocates, however, continue to resist efforts by the Obama administration to hold more lease sales or expand offshore drilling in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. They have expressed dissatisfaction with the level of new safety and environmental standards undertaken by the Interior Department since the disaster.

The lawmakers appeared to disagree.

“We recognize in the wake of the Gulf spill, your Department has moved aggressively to implement new safety and environmental regulations and that you have stated publicly that your Department would not be authorizing new activity if you did not believe it was being done safely,” the members wrote to Salazar. “Given these regulatory changes, as well as actions taken by the industry to restore confidence, we believe it is time to move ahead in facilitating new access to the OCS and that waiting until 2017 at the earliest to initiate these activities does not serve the public interest.”

President Obama said in his State of the Union address he was directing the Interior Department to move forward with its new five-year plan to lease areas of the Gulf of Mexico and Arctic Ocean. He and Salazar have said the plan would make available 75 percent of the nation’s potentially recoverable offshore resources.

Offshore advocates contend that figure doesn’t account for waters that aren’t open yet.

House Republicans have sought to advance legislation that opens new waters for drilling. In their chamber’s legislation reauthorizing surface-transportation programs, they have put in a provision expanding drilling into the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and using the resulting royalties to cover some of the costs of the transportation component.