Early pressure mounts on overhaul of U.S. offshore oil and gas rules

An offshore measure under review in the House would reconfigure how fast leases move forward, but was criticized as a wish-list for the industry.
By Daniel J. Graeber  |  Oct. 6, 2017 at 7:15 AM
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Oct. 6 (UPI) -- Members of the U.S. House next week take up a measure on offshore drilling that advocates say checks off the wish-list for the oil and gas industry.

The House Natural Resources Energy and Mineral subcommittee scheduled a hearing for Oct. 11 to take up the Accessing Strategic Resources Offshore Act, or ASTRO.

The measure would limit the presidential authority to put parts of the Outer Continental Shelf off limits to oil and gas drillers and give the Interior Department the authority to moved ahead with new leases sales "as soon as practicable," but no later than a year after the announcement of intent.

In one of his final moves in office, former President Barack Obama used parts of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to ban oil and gas work in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off the coast of Alaska, as well as Atlantic coast areas.

President Donald Trump has put oil, gas and coal at the forefront of his energy policies in an effort to advance an already-robust sector of the U.S. economy. In August, House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop, R-UT, said, with Trump in office, "the time is now to make the U.S. energy dominant."

A spokesman for offshore advocacy group Oceana told UPI the ASTO Act is "the kitchen sink of the oil industry's wish list."

When the Trump administration issued a draft for public comment on preliminary oil and gas work in the Atlantic, a region placed off limits by the Obama administration, the advocacy group cried foul. Oceana told UPI last year that around 1.4 million jobs and $95 billion in gross domestic product may depend on fishing, tourism and recreation along the Atlantic coast, industry's that could be threatened by oil and gas work.

The American Petroleum Institute estimates the oil and gas industry has added $1.3 trillion to the U.S. economy since 2015.

A budget measure for fiscal year 2018, which passed out of a committee in August with full Republican support, drew its own criticism from the environmental community. Scott Slesinger, a legislative director with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the bill is bloated with handouts to the oil and gas industry and could open the door to drilling in an Arctic wildlife reserve in Alaska.

Chairman Bishop said the budget resolution is representative of the people's will to promote economic opportunity.

"New and better policies are needed to facilitate greater natural resource management and responsible development," he said in a statement.

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