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Washington State Congressman Submits Three Energy Bills

U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) introduced three bills Tuesday that would end the de facto moratorium on shallow water and deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), jump-start oil and natural gas lease sales and lift a ban on new offshore drilling.

Hastings, who serves as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the bills -- the Putting the Gulf Back to Work Act, the Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act and the Reversing President Obama's Moratorium Act -- were the first of what he said would be an array of bills submitted by the Republican-controlled House through the American Energy Initiative.

"These bills will directly reverse Obama administration actions that have locked up America's vast offshore oil and natural gas resources," Hastings said. He added during a press conference Tuesday that the proposed legislation would "reverse specific actions taken by the Obama administration to block offshore energy production."

The Putting the Gulf Back to Work Act calls for ending the de facto moratorium on shallow water and deepwater drilling in the GOM. It would require Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to have his agency act on a permit to drill within 30 days of receiving an application, and it gives Salazar 30 days to restart permits that were approved before May 27 last year.

On Tuesday the Interior Department reported that more than two-thirds of the offshore oil and natural gas leases in the GOM and more than half of the onshore leases on federal lands remain idle (see related story).

"It's been over 10 months since activity was halted," Hastings said. "These businesses need to be allowed to resume activities that were approved and under way."

Under the Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act, Salazar would be required to conduct oil and natural gas lease sales in the GOM and in offshore Virginia that have been delayed or canceled by the Obama administration. The Virginia lease sales would have to be held no later than one year after the bill's passage.

"Due to the Obama administration's actions, 2011 will be the first year since 1958 that the federal government will not hold an offshore lease sale," Hastings said.

Finally, the Reversing President Obama's Moratorium Act would lift President Obama's ban on new offshore drilling. The bill would require that five-year offshore leasing plans crafted by the federal government include lease sales in areas containing the greatest known oil and natural gas reserves. For the 2012-2017 plan, those areas are specifically defined as those estimated to contain 2.5 billion bbl of oil or 7.5 Tcf of natural gas. At least 50% of those areas must be made available for leasing in the 2012-2017 plan, according to the bill.

The Reversing President Obama's Moratorium Act would also require Salazar establish a specific production goal when writing a five-year plan, and for 2012-2017 it must be 3 million b/d of oil and 10 Bcf/d of natural gas by 2027, which includes the five-year plan and the ensuing 10 years under which leases would have been written.

Said Hastings: "By comparison to today's levels, this increase in oil equates to a tripling of current American offshore production, and would reduce foreign imports by nearly one-third."

Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, lauded the submission of the legislation.

"The legislation presented today by [Hastings] is an important step in allowing Americans to take control of their energy resources," Pyle said Tuesday. "If America is going to get serious about energy security, we must get serious about developing our vast natural resources. The proposals made today are common sense ideas that would bring down the price of gas and strengthen America's energy future."

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