As the House passes a trio of pro-drilling bills, the administration is set to unveil new developments on the drilling front today, although a senior administration official sidestepped the suggestion that the administration was spurred by GOP action.
"Ongoing oil and gas production is something that the administration has taken very seriously," the official said on the conference call with reporters.
The new developments include the following points of action:
1. Holding an annual onshore lease sale in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.
2. Extend all Gulf leases affected by the administration's own moratorium. A senior administration official said companies have been approaching the Department of Interior and asking on a case by case basis to have the leases extended, since they were interrupted by the oil spill. However, the administration decided to grant a blanket extension. The administration will also extend offshore leases off the coast of Alaska.
3. Confirm lease sales by mid 2012 in the western and central Gulf
4. Expediting research for drilling in mid and south Atlantic-- right now, however, this process is basically in the studying-the-environmental-impact stage, which a senior administration official estimated would be completed in approximately a year or a little bit longer. They'll then gauge industry interest. A senior administration official pointed out that additional areas for offshore leases can be added at any time to the current leasing plan. The senior administration official said adding mid and south Atlantic leases to the five-year plan right now is a "possibility."
5. There will also be a new high level inter-agency working group to deal with permitting in Alaska. This is supposed to help the coordination between agencies who have jurisdiction in the matter "move smoothly and efficiently."
Apparently, drilling in the Arctic Refuge is off the table, and the administration does not support drilling there.
A senior administration official said the administration has tried to take the best ideas from both Democrats and Republicans in these considerations.