NGI The Weekly Gas Market Report / NGI All News Access

House Republicans Fail to Overturn OCS Drilling Moratorium

Two House Republican amendments seeking to remove the congressional moratorium on exploration and production in portions of the federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) were vanquished last Thursday.

By a vote of 262 to 157, the House defeated an amendment sponsored by Rep. John Peterson (R-PA) to remove the more than 20-year moratorium on natural gas drilling in the OCS, while maintaining the ban on oil production.

At the same time, the House chair rejected as out of order an amendment, offered by Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK), to lift the moratorium on drilling in a portion of the eastern Gulf of Mexico (south of Pensacola near the Florida Panhandle area) when oil imports reach two-thirds of U.S. consumption. Istook's measure was rejected on a procedural technicality following a point-of-order request by Rep. Charles Taylor (R-NC), chairman of the Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on interior. The House chair, in dismissing Istook's measure, ruled that he was attempting to legislate in a spending bill.

Istook's office gave an optimistic spin to the outcome. "One of our main goals was to raise attention to it [the moratorium], and we accomplished that," said Micah Leydorf, a spokeswoman for Istook. Congress "blindly" approves the ban every year as part of the appropriations bill without considering "whether it is good energy policy," she noted. "[My] amendment says that it's time to say this is not a perpetual ban," Istook said during the House debate.

Peterson took the same position. "This debate was a good first step...It's not easy to overturn preconceived notions, no matter how misinformed, and I look forward to building on this discussion in the months ahead." he said.

The vote against the Peterson amendment was dictated more by geography than party affiliation. Some key Republicans who routinely support energy initiatives opposed the measure to overturn the OCS ban on natural gas production, while Democrats whose districts are being ravaged by high gas prices voted in favor of the Peterson proposal.

Both Peterson and Istook offered their amendments during floor debate on the $26.2 billion appropriations bill for the Department of Interior, Environment and Related Agencies for fiscal 2006, which cleared the House Thursday night.

"This is the most important amendment that we will consider," Peterson said on the House floor. He noted that 85% of the domestic natural gas reserves are locked up by the congressional moratoria, which he blamed for the "runaway price of natural gas." The Interior Department estimates that 406 Tcf of natural gas reserves are buried in the OCS, according to Istook.

Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) expressed "strong opposition" to the Peterson and Istook measures. She noted that the Peterson amendment would have little impact on supply, given that 81% of the undiscovered technically recoverable gas is located in the Central and Western regions of the Gulf of Mexico, which are not subject to either the executive or congressional moratoria.

"To open up the eastern Gulf of Mexico [near Florida to gas drilling] would be a terrible mistake," said Rep. Jim Davis (D-FL). "We should not risk the Florida beaches or the California beaches." He noted that the House in April approved incentives to encourage further drilling in the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico as part of its broad energy bill.

Rep. John Mica of Florida, however, said he believed that the energy industry could "safely extract" natural gas off the coast of Florida, without spoiling the state's beaches. "I oppose oil drilling," he noted, but added that he favored offshore gas exploration.

Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) estimated that abolishing the congressional OCS moratorium would save U.S. consumers and manufacturers $300 billion in gas costs over the next 20 years.

©Copyright 2005 Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news report may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in any form, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.

Comments powered by Disqus