Finally: Drilling Wars Begin Again

Elisabeth Meinecke
Posted: May 05, 2011 10:15 AM
The Republicans are pushing three drilling bills in the House right now -- two of which, H.R. 1229 and 1230, have already been taken up by the Rules committee -- that begin to address the lack of offshore drilling by the United States.  Each bill takes a slightly different approach, but, according to GOP press releases and a GOP conference call led by Rep. Peter Roskam and Rep. Doc Hastings with reporters yesterday, they keep the focus on American energy jobs, less dependence on foreign oil, and strengthening U.S. national security.

One bill focuses on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, where the administration has clogged the process through delaying its granting of drill permits; another focuses on allowing previously-planned lease sales under George W. Bush to continue in Virginia and the Gulf of Mexico.

A key characteristic of the bills is trying to speed up the process of whether a company will actually be allowed to drill. The bills don't mandate drilling, but they do shorten the time period of uncertainty as to whether a company will be granted approval to start the drilling process. Companies must first be sold a lease to drill, and then, often, they must obtain a permit. As it stands now, the government, to delay drilling, will be indefinite as to whether a company will be granted that permit, even if that company has been granted a lease. These bills place a time limit on that permit process. They also make the permit process required by law instead of by regulation.

According to Hastings, there have been conversations with Senate staff for introducing similar bills in that chamber.

The administration is, of course, hitting back. According to the Republican House Natural Resources Committee press release, the administration allowed one of the lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico to progress after HR 1230 was passed out of committee.

"Prior to this sudden action, the Obama Administration was on course to make 2011 the first year since 1958 that the federal government will not have held an offshore lease sale," the release said.

The administration, meanwhile, released its own statement.

"H.R. 1230 would undermine the Administration's work to ensure that environmental analysis required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is conducted in a rigorous manner," the Office of Management and Budget said in that statement. "H.R. 1230 would hastily open areas of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic to leasing, including requiring the Department of the Interior (DOI) to hold three lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico using outdated NEPA analysis that was conducted before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill."

When is the last time an agency did anything productive in a rigorous manner? And what is "hasty" about not yet granting sales that could have begun as early as 2007?

The administration also takes issue with the time limit on permits:

"The Administration believes these statutory time constraints are unwarranted.  Fifty-one new shallow water permits have been issued since the Administration’s stronger safety standards were put in place, and deepwater permit applications also are being processed in a timely manner."

Right. Which is why a federal judge is currently holding them in contempt for stalling the deepwater permit process. The really sad thing is, as much delay as there is in the Gulf, there's even more delay trying to drill in the Arctic. Just ask Shell.