The House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow the Department of Interior (DOI) to conduct offshore oil and natural gas lease sales via the internet. If the bill is ultimately enacted into law, it could thwart efforts by environmental groups to disrupt future auctions.
The bill, HR 5577, also known as the Innovation in Offshore Leasing Act, passed the House by a voice vote Tuesday. Introduced by Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) in late June, the bill calls for amending the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Lands Act by authorizing the DOI secretary to conduct live offshore oil and gas lease sales over the internet (see Daily GPI, July 7).
"This bill brings much needed modernization to our antiquated offshore leasing processes," Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, said. "Even though the current administration seeks to eliminate all of the OCS from exploration, what is available in the restrictive five-year plan will benefit immensely from Rep. Graves' innovative framework.
"Despite what fringe-left special interests keep saying, this bipartisan bill expands both public access and transparency."
Environmental groups were opposed to the move.
"Hiding offshore fossil fuel auctions from public scrutiny won't stop the climate justice movement," Blake Kopcho, an organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity, said. "People are demanding climate action and protection of coastal communities and wildlife. These are public resources and any decision to sell them off to the highest bidder ought to be done in the bright light of day. Better yet, the fossil fuels should simply be left in the ground."
Officials within the Obama administration have voiced concern over HR 5577. Specifically, there are concerns over the requirement that at least one online lease sale be conducted for leasable acreage in the Gulf of Mexico within one year of the bill's passage. The officials also said the bill could impact the flexibility afforded to the DOI's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
Last month, the DOI's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said it would begin conducting lease sales online (see Daily GPI, Aug. 30). Congress gave the BLM the authority to do so with passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015, which amended the Mineral Leasing Act (MLA).
"We're pleased BLM is moving forward with online oil and natural gas lease auctions to take advantage of well-established technology," said Western Energy Alliance (WEA) spokesperson Kathleen Sgamma. "Transitioning auctions from in-person to online will enable BLM to meet its obligations under existing law, reduce administrative costs, and eliminate disruptions from Keep-It-in-the-Ground protesters."
The WEA has filed a lawsuit alleging the BLM has failed to meet federal obligations to hold quarterly lease sales and conduct them in a transparent manner (see Daily GPI, Aug. 11).