As part of a trio of measures voted out by the House Natural Resources Committee Wednesday, Republicans defeated an attempt by Democrats to block future exports of natural gas produced on the coastal plain of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The Republican-crafted bill (HR 3407), which would open up less than 3% (400,000 acres) of ANWR’s North Slope to energy production, was favorably marked up in committee and reported to the House floor by a vote of 29-13. The committee also voted out two other bills that would open heretofore closed areas of the Atlantic, Pacific, and eastern Gulf of Mexico (HR 3410); and promote the development of oil shale resources in the Rocky Mountains (HR 3408).

The three bills make up the over-arching American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act, which is expected to be voted out of the House, but they may face some problems in the Senate.

Republicans said expanded oil and natural gas drilling would help to pay for nationwide highway and mass-transit projects. The existing highway trust fund currently is experiencing a major short-fall and the measures won’t come close to closing the $50 billion shortfall, said Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ). At the most, he estimated the legislation may raise $5 billion.

The ANWR bill, an old issue as it has been voted out of the House 11 times and the Senate one time, again sparked the most controversy. The legislation includes a provision prohibiting the export of oil produced in federal leases, but it is mute on exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) offered an amendment attempting to require North Slope natural gas to stay in the United States. He cited the Energy Information Administration’s recent projections of lower Marcellus Shale resource estimates, and the potential of higher domestic gas prices if LNG was exported (see Daily GPI, Jan. 24).

Markey’s amendment was met with immediate resistance from Republicans.

Because of the low prices for domestic gas, companies are lining up to export it, which could send gas prices in the United States skyrocketing, Markey said. “What companies want [is] to set a international price for natural gas.” Markey also called gas “the answer that we have been waiting for…We want it [natural gas] in New England.”

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) called Markey’s amendment “totally irrelevant,” because there is no way now to export gas from ANWR. However, another lawmaker pointed out that while Lamborn may be correct, the ANWR bill has no end date for barring gas exports. “At some future date, it’s likely there will be a way to export gas.”

There’s “no chance of delivering [gas] to the Lower 48, and [there will be] no chance in the next 50 years,” Rep. Don Young, an Alaska Republican, said.

The Massachusetts legislator also cited a January meeting in which ExxonMobil Corp., BP plc and ConocoPhillips discussed plans to build an LNG export terminal in Alaska.

But there was “nothing sinister” about the meeting, said Young.

Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) said the comments by Markey, who has been a long-time critic of drilling off the East Coast, were a welcome prelude to the next bill, which would open up parts of the Atlantic offshore to drilling.

Near the end of the day-long markup, the committee voted out legislation to expand offshore energy development, calling for the federal government to conduct prompt offshore lease sales — Sale 216 in the Central Gulf of Mexico (GOM) no later than four months after enactment of the bill; Sale 220 on the Outer Continental Shelf offshore Virginia within a year of the bill’s enactment; and lease sale 222 also in the Central GOM by Sept. 1. It also proposes more leasing in the eastern Gulf.

Over the objections of Democrats, the committee also sent to the House floor a bill promoting the development of U.S. oil shale resources and shale technology research and development. The bill calls for the secretary of the Department of Interior to hold a lease sale in the Rocky Mountains within 180 days after the enactment of the bill, according to the lease terms published on Jan. 15, 2009. And by Jan. 1, 2016, the Interior secretary is to hold at least five separate commercial lease sales in areas considered to have the most potential for oil shale development.

This is a “hurry up, rush to judgment” to open up 120,000 acres for development, posing a potential environmental risk, New Jersey’s Holt said. He offered an amendment that would have allowed the bill to go into effect only after the Congressional Budget Office had determined that it would result in a positive return to the government.

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