House Gives Thumb's Up to Offshore Drilling After Obama Climate Push

WASHINGTON – The House is moving ahead with plans to make it easier to drill for oil and gas off the nation’s shores despite opposition from environmental groups and the specter of a pair of potential presidential vetoes.

The chamber passed two bills in recent days in an effort to remove barriers to offshore drilling. The Offshore Energy and Jobs Act, which passed 235-186, requires the Obama administration to implement a five-year plan to award leases in regions off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts that contain the largest amount of oil and natural gas resources.

Meanwhile the Outer Continental Shelf Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreements Authorization Act, approved in a 256-171 vote, authorizes Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to implement the terms of an agreement between the U.S. and Mexico that arranges for the exploration, development and production of oil and natural gas in the offshore border area shared by the two nations.

Neither bill is expected to pass muster in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where they may not even come up for a vote. President Obama has already indicated he would veto the lease expansion proposal. And while he supports the agreement entered into with Mexico in 2012, he is wary of a section that waives a provision in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law requiring corporations to disclose payments made to foreign governments.

Both bills drew some bipartisan support. Twenty-eight Democrats joined most Republicans to approve the U.S.-Mexico agreement while 16 crossed over on the offshore leasing proposal.

Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources and the prime sponsor of the offshore leasing measure, said steps were necessary because “government barriers” are blocking access to vital energy resources. Development in the Atlantic and Pacific could create as many as one million new jobs, lower energy prices and generate revenues of $1.5 billion.

“Safe and responsible development of America’s energy resources is vital to American energy security,” Hastings said.

In 2011 the Obama administration announced a plan to close most of the outer continental shelf from new energy production through 2017. The administration’s five-year plan prohibited new offshore drilling and allowed lease sales to occur only in areas that were already open. The plan included lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic but excluded portions of Alaska and the entire Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

The president’s actions came primarily in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, the largest marine oil spill in the petroleum industry’s history, with total discharge reaching 4.9 million barrels.

Hastings said Obama had an opportunity upon taking office in 2008 to expand the nation’s offshore oil and natural gas production

“Instead, he said no to new American jobs and no to new American energy by canceling lease sales, placing more offshore areas off-limits and effectively re-imposing an offshore drilling moratorium,” Hastings said. “It’s no surprise that offshore energy production has declined since President Obama took office.”

Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) accused Republicans of rushing forward with ill-conceived legislation to open up beaches and coastlines on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to unsafe drilling.