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House to Vote on Offshore Lease Bill Thursday

The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Thursday on the first of three energy bills that, if enacted, would end the de facto moratorium on shallow water and deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), resume oil and gas lease sales and lift a ban on new offshore drilling.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) announced Friday that the bill up for a vote Thursday -- HR 1230, the "Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act" -- could net $40 million in revenue over the next 10 years but only cost $2 million for the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) to implement.

Crystal Feldman, spokeswoman for the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, told NGI on Monday that HR 1230 would come to a floor vote on Thursday.

"With gas prices shooting toward the $4 mark -- and we're assuming they are going to go beyond that -- this is an opportune time to get these bills on the floor so we can start doing American energy production," Feldman said.

Feldman added that once House members got through HR 1230 they would take up two additional bills -- HR 1229 and 1231, the "Putting the Gulf Back to Work Act" and the "Reversing President Obama's Moratorium Act," respectively -- but she said "it's more likely these will be done sometime next week."

HR 1230 would require the federal government to conduct oil and gas lease sales in the GOM and off the coast of Virginia. In a four-page report, the CBO said HR 1230's passage would have no significant effect on proceeds from GOM lease sales because the bill's timetable for the sales to occur -- within four and eight months of passage for the central and western GOM, respectively -- are similar to the schedule included in the DOI's budget for 2011.

The CBO said a proposed lease sale of 4 million acres off the coast of Virginia was canceled in 2010 to further study offshore drilling's impacts on the environment and the military, which has a large presence in Hampton Roads. That in turn has delayed a final leasing plan, and the CBO estimates that the Virginia leases will not be available for auction until after June 30, 2017. The CBO also estimates that it would cost the DOI about $2 million to conduct the necessary studies.

But once available for auction, the CBO figures, the Virginia leases would net about $40 million over a 10-year period.

HR 1229 calls for ending the de facto moratorium on shallow water and deepwater drilling in the GOM and requires DOI Secretary Ken Salazar to act on a permit to drill within 30 days of receiving an application, as well as 30 days to restart permits that were approved before May 27, 2010. Meanwhile, HR 1231 would lift President Obama's ban on new offshore drilling.

All three bills were introduced by U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) -- who serves as chairman of the Natural Resources Committee -- in March, and they subsequently passed the committee's muster on April 13 (see Daily GPI, April 14; March 30). The committee also ordered the CBO to conduct cost estimates for HR 1229 and 1230 on April 13.

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