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GOP Drilling Offer Includes Offshore Virginia, California

House Republicans are offering an alternative to the Obama administration's plan for drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), which would nearly double the number of lease sales now proposed over the 2012-2017 period and open up new areas -- the Mid-Atlantic and Southern California -- to exploration.

The oil and gas industry and its supporters have been highly critical of the Obama administration's offshore leasing plan in part because it takes off the table the Atlantic and Pacific areas of the OCS. The GOP legislation (H.R. 6082) proposed by Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, calls for 28 lease sales to be held during the 2012-2017 period in eight OCS regions, including the Mid-Atlantic off Virginia's coast; Southern California; the Western Gulf of Mexico (GOM); the Central GOM; the portion of the Eastern GOM that is not under a congressional moratorium; and the Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea and North Aleutian Basin areas in Alaska. The committee has scheduled a mark-up of the bill for Wednesday (July 18).

The Obama administration, in its final leasing program released in late June, has scheduled 15 potential lease sales in six offshore areas. Twelve of the potential lease sales would be held in the Western and Central GOM, and the portion of the Eastern GOM not currently under a congressional moratorium (see NGI, July 2). Three of the potential lease sales are scheduled for offshore Alaska in the Cook Inlet, Chukchi and Beaufort seas. The program does not include any lease sales off the Atlantic or Pacific coats.

At a hearing before the House committee in May, the Department of Interior's Tommy Beaudreau, who directs the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said the department would need better seismic data before it could hold a lease sale off the Atlantic Coast, noting that the existing seismic data on the resource potential of the Atlantic Coast is 30 years old (see NGI, May 14).

The Republican OCS plan proposes to hold a lease sale off the coast of Virginia as early as 2013, to be followed by more Mid-Atlantic lease sales in 2014, 2015 and 2017. A lease sale off the coast of Southern California is scheduled for 2017. "President Obama canceled a lease sale off Virginia scheduled for 2011 and the president's plan doesn't allow energy production off Virginia until 2017 or later," Hastings said.

In mid-June, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina also proposed legislation to open up 10-50 miles off the South Carolina coast to oil and natural gas drilling. The bill has not yet moved out of committee (see NGI, June 18).

The Obama leasing plan, which was delivered to Congress on June 28, is subject to a 60-day review by legislators before it takes effect. "House Republicans will make clear that the president's plan is unacceptable...[It] closes off 85% of America's offshore resources and effectively reimposes the drilling moratoria lifted by Congress and President Bush in 2008 when gas prices set record highs," Hastings said.

According to federal estimates, the offshore areas that would be available to oil and gas leasing under the Obama program total 122.3 billion boe, which includes 67.7 billion bbl of oil and 306.6 Tcf of natural gas, all of which are considered technically recoverable.

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