Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) introduced legislation Wednesday to permanently erase the bans on oil and natural gas drilling on the federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) and oil shale development in the Intermountain West.

The measure (S. 3646) also would allow the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service to begin preleasing and leasing activities immediately in the OCS, without the need to completely write a new five-year leasing plan. DeMint estimates that exploration efforts could begin as early as 2009.

Moreover, the bill provides for 50-50 sharing of offshore production royalties between coastal states and the federal treasury, and it would give environmentalists only 90 days to file lawsuits in federal courts. Appeals of federal court rulings would have to be filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

DeMint’s bill, “The Drill Now Act,” comes one day after President Bush signed a $630 billion continuing resolution that allowed the decades-old congressional moratorium on offshore drilling and the ban on oil shale development to expire (see Daily GPI, Sept. 30). With the stroke of a pen Tuesday, Bush opened access to more than 20 billion bbl of oil and 97 Tcf of natural gas in the OCS and potentially as much as 2 trillion bbl of oil from oil shale development, according to DeMint.

The absence of the bans could be short-lived if Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is elected in November. However, there would be a better shot of the OCS staying open if Republican presidential candidate John McCain wins.

The congressional moratorium on offshore drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico has been in place since 1982. It has been renewed annually by Congress as part of the appropriations process. Congress approved a ban a year ago on issuing regulations for oil shale development in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado.

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