Republican Bills Require New US Offshore Leases, Faster Permitting

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March 30, 2011

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)–The Obama administration would be required to hold new offshore lease sales and to issue drilling permits within a set time frame under bills soon to be introduced by Republicans in the U.S. House.

The bills were announced Tuesday by Rep. Doc Hastings (R., Wash.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees U.S. offshore regulators. The bills also have support from other Republicans.

The Republicans released summaries of the bills Tuesday as they gathered co-sponsors. One bill would require the Interior Department to conduct two oil and natural gas leases sales in the Gulf before June 1, 2012, or within one year after the bill is passed. It would also require the administration to conduct a lease sale off the Virginia coast within one year.

Another bill would require Interior to issue drilling permits within 30 days of receiving them. Two 15-day delays would be allowed. For existing permit applications, Interior would have to act within 30 days.

A third bill would require that a five-year plan for new lease sales include areas that are known to contain the greatest quantities of oil and natural gas.

The bills would not change new safety requirements put in place following the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil spill last year, but would codify some of them into law, a spokesman for Hastings said.

“These bills will directly reverse Obama Administration actions that have locked-up America’s vast offshore oil and natural gas resources,” Hastings said in a statement.

The administration has slowed the pace of offshore permitting since the spill and required operators to meet new safety requirements, drawing ire from Republicans and Gulf-state Democrats who say the policies have hurt local economies that rely on offshore drilling. Hastings also criticized the administration Tuesday for failing to move forward with new offshore lease sales.

Interior has asked for increased funding in the budget year that begins in October in order to hire more staff to review permits and inspect offshore rigs. Hastings is scheduled to hold a hearing on the agency’s budget request for offshore drilling regulation Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Hastings’ spokesman said the congressman did not support increasing fees paid by the industry in order to fund the new staff, as Interior has proposed.

“It’s going to be important for Chairman Hastings to learn tomorrow if an increased budget for this agency and increased staffing is going to help the permitting process, or if it’s going to just add to a bureaucracy,” spokesman Spencer Pederson said.

Interior officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

-By Ryan Tracy, Dow Jones Newswires

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