WASHINGTON, April 19 (UPI) -- The United States can move closer to energy independence by opening offshore reserves near the Mexican border, lawmakers said.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Chairman Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., introduced legislation that would open waters near the U.S.-Mexico maritime border to energy explorers.
The bill would amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act by lifting a moratorium on drilling in the region. Duncan said the measure would move the United States closer to energy independence.
The American Petroleum Institute this week said U.S. oil imports were at their lowest level since 1998 at 10.0 million bpd, down 5.3 percent compared to last March.
"Congressional approval of this agreement will provide much-needed certainty to U.S. energy companies that are interested in leasing and developing these areas but up until now have been unable," Hastings said.
A U.S.-Mexico agreement signed last year called for a joint inspection team to ensure compliance with applicable safety and environmental laws in the maritime area. It follows a 2010 commitment from the U.S. and Mexican governments to work in oil and natural gas developments along the shared maritime border.
The U.S. Interior Department estimates the transboundary region in the Gulf of Mexico holds as much as 172 million barrels of oil and 304 billion cubic feet of natural gas.
A hearing on the bill is scheduled for next Thursday.