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House moves to expand offshore drilling

2013-07-02

offshore oil drilling



The House on Friday passed legislation that would expand offshore drilling by forcing the federal government to sell new oil and gas leases along the coasts of California, South Carolina, Virginia and any other states where governors say they want the work.

But the measure, which passed on a mostly party-line vote of 235-186, is not expected to advance in the Democrat-controlled Senate, much less clear the chamber with enough support to overturn a threatened veto by President Barack Obama.

Beyond targeting California, South Carolina and Virginia for offshore oil drilling, the bill would limit environmental reviews of the mandated lease sales, forcing federal regulators to study the implications of oil exploration in all three areas simultaneously, rather than with separate, area-specific studies.

At the same time, it would force the Interior Department to focus all future oil and gas leasing plans to areas with the most potential. Regulators would have to sell leases in areas estimated to contain more than 2.5 billion barrels of oil or more than 7.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas — or if the adjacent state governor asks for the auction.

The measure also would slowly phase in a program for coastal states to collect a share of federal revenues tied to offshore oil and gas development. Although far less aggressive than the leading Senate revenue-sharing proposal, the House measure is opposed by offshore drilling foes who say it could lure even skeptical state leaders to support coastal oil exploration as a way to raise money.

By a vote of 238-185, the House adopted an amendment by Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., that would give Gulf Coast states a chance to score even more money from nearby drilling, by boosting a $500 million cap on the amount they can collect under a revenue-sharing program set to begin in 2017. Cassidy’s amendment set the annual threshold at $999 million.