House takes up offshore drilling overhaul

By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |  Nov. 7, 2017 at 6:16 AM
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Nov. 7 (UPI) -- As leaders in the U.S. House take up an offshore drilling bill, pressure has mounted on the U.S. government's lack of oversight for protection of public lands.

The Accessing Strategic Resources Offshore Act, or ASTRO, 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 move ahead with new lease sales "as soon as practicable," but no later than a year after the announcement of intent.

House leaders scheduled a markup hearing on the measure for Wednesday. Miyoko Sakshita, the oceans project director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the ASTRO Act was a giveaway to the oil and gas industry.

"Bishop's bill is a truly shocking attack on our government's ability to protect America's public lands and oceans from dangerous drilling," she said in a statement.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, is the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which is reviewing the bill. The majority of Bishop's fundraising comes from the oil and gas industry. In his support of the bill, the chairman said the ASTRO Act would "make the U.S. energy dominant."

The American Petroleum Institute estimates the oil and gas industry has added $1.3 trillion to the U.S. economy since 2015. Supporters of the measure said opening up more areas to drillers could create more than 800,000 new jobs and generate $200 billion in revenue.

The federal government estimates about 90 billion barrels of oil have yet to be discovered in U.S. territorial waters.

Energy policies under President Donald Trump have been decidedly pro-oil. His Interior Department, meanwhile, has moved to shrink national monuments and recently backed out of a transparency initiative meant to monitor oil and gas revenue.

Apart from expanding access to drillers, the ASTRO Act would recombine the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which former BOEM Director Michael Bromwich said was "a profoundly bad idea."

The BSEE was set up in response to failures with the former federal Minerals Management Service in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

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