Lawmakers push their own Gulf leasing plans

07 14, 2012 by Houma Courier

Just two weeks after President Barack Obama submitted his five-year energy leasing plan to Congress, Republicans in both chambers have alternatives queued up for debate.

The U.S. Interior Department secretary must submit the administration’s plan to lawmakers 60 days before they anticipate approving it, but the new bills in the House and Senate seek to overhaul the leasing schedule before its implemented.

Obama’s administration is recommending 12 lease sales for the Gulf’s Outer Continental Shelf through 2017, with the first official sale set for sometime this fall.

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

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar refers to it as “targeted leasing,” which translates to smaller areas of possible exploration with greater chances of payout based on the best available science and technology.

“President Obama has made clear his commitment to expanding responsible domestic oil and gas production in America as part of this all-of-the-above energy strategy, and with comprehensive safety standards in place, this plan will help us to continue to grow America’s energy economy and further reduce our dependence on foreign oil, while protecting marine, costal and human health,” Salazar said.

The approach has drawn the ire of environmental groups, which argue there aren’t enough safety enhancements reflecting lessons learned from the 2010 oil spill. It also garnered sharp criticism from industry, which wants the plan to include more drilling opportunities.

Senate Republicans announced Friday that they’ll be moving forward with an alternative crafted by Sens. David Vitter of Metairie and Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

Their bill calls for lease sales and production in most of the Outer Continental Shelf.

It also would 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.

“The fall-off from the leasing and permitting actions of the Obama administration is very significant, and it’s projected to get even worse,” Vitter said. “Our bill is a commonsense approach that will increase the areas available to sell leases offshore and of course will put a substantial amount of revenue back into the federal treasury.”

Sessions said he was surprised the administration “quietly” issued an offshore-energy proposal that would “place a virtual moratorium over 85 percent of the nation’s offshore areas.”

Sessions described the plan as an attack on jobs and commerce.

“We need to take bold action to harness America’s vast energy resources, but the administration clearly has a different vision,” he said.

The House Natural Resources Committee is expected to debate and hear amendments to the lower chamber’s proposal this Wednesday.

Chairman Doc Hastings, a Republican from Washington, said the House replacement plan would most notably provide for opening offshore Virginia to drilling, with the first of several lease sales starting in 2013.

It would likewise open up most areas in the Gulf for exploration.

“The legislation that the committee will act on would replace the energy-restricting and job-limiting Obama plan with a responsible, robust offshore drilling plan that will create new jobs by safely opening new areas known to possess the greatest offshore energy resources,” Hastings said.

While developing its latest five-year plan, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management oversaw two Gulf lease sales since the 2010 oil spill, including one in December in which 21 million acres were offered up and another in June that attracted $1.7 billion in record high bids.

Salazar said that “every year the president has been in office, domestic oil and gas production is up, imports of foreign oil are down, and currently the nation is producing more oil than any time in the last eight years.”