As a follow-up to the recently enacted omnibus energy bill, the House Resources Committee will begin mark-up on Wednesday of a measure aimed at authorizing exploration and production in Alaska’s arctic region and relaxing the moratorium to allow interested coastal states to explore for oil and natural gas off their shores.

After Congress passed comprehensive energy legislation this summer, committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA) remarked that it was a good bill, but that more needed to be done to increase domestic crude oil and natural gas supply and lower prices, particularly this winter. “This was true even before the storms,” he said, adding that the back-to-back hurricanes, which have rocked the Gulf Coast, have made the need even more pressing.

Pombo’s new bill, “The National Energy Supply Diversification and Disruption Prevention Act,” would enable producers to explore for oil and natural gas outside the traditional Gulf region to bolster supply and lower prices, the committee said.

Notably, it would give coastal states the authority to opt out of the moratorium on drilling on the federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) and permit drilling should state governors and legislatures approve it. “The OCS has enough natural gas to single-handedly meet all U.S. residential needs for at least 15 years, but more than 80% of offshore areas are barred from oil and gas production,” the panel noted.

The measure would provide billions of dollars directly to coastal states and local communities that choose to produce, which could be used for post-disaster clean-up or to repair coastal erosion and wetlands. It further allows states, such as Florida, to solidify the federal ban on offshore production if they choose not to develop oil and gas resources.

In addition, the Pombo bill would authorize the production of an estimated 10.4 billion barrels of oil in the northern coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The potential daily production in ANWR’s northern coastal plain is roughly equal to the oil production from the Gulf of Mexico, and equal to about 25 years worth of Saudi Arabian imports, according to the committee.

Pombo last week also proposed opening ANWR and relaxing the OCS moratorium as potential ways to produce $2.4 billion of additional revenue in the budget reconciliation process (see Daily GPI, Sept. 26).

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