House Lawmakers Press to Eliminate Offshore Ban on Gas-Only Drilling

Less than a week after House leaders scrapped expanded Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) development as part of the deficit-reduction package, two members of the House Resources Committee are expected to introduce stand-alone legislation by Tuesday that would eliminate the moratorium with respect to drilling for natural gas on the federal OCS.

Reps. John E. Peterson (R-PA) and Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), both advocates of offshore natural gas drilling, are fighting the clock to introduce the bipartisan bill by Tuesday so that a hearing can be held on the bill Thursday by House Resources' Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee, said Chris Tucker, a spokesman for Peterson.

Unlike with the House deficit-reduction package, "we expect to get several Democratic votes" for the measure that will focus on offshore gas activity, Tucker said. Any opposition to the bill would fall mostly along regional lines, rather than party lines, he noted. The Peterson-Abercrombie proposal had been included in a bill approved at the committee level in late September, but it was later struck due to intense opposition from various factions, particularly Florida.

If voted out by the House Resources Committee, Tucker said Peterson and Abercrombie have received assurances from Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) that the bill would be considered on the House floor later this winter. Peterson received the assurance from Hastert in exchange for promising not to try to attach his bill to the pending deficit-reduction package, which the House is expected to take up this week, according to Congressional Quarterly's Green Sheets.

House leaders last week struck from the $50 billion deficit-cutting bill provisions that were favorable to OCS development and opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling (see Daily GPI, Nov. 11). The OCS language, which was negotiated by House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA) and the Florida delegation, would have permitted interested coastal states to engage in oil and gas drilling 125 miles from their shorelines (see Daily GPI, Oct. 27).

"We believe the 125-mile fence was far too generous to Florida," Tucker told NGI. He said the Peterson-Abercrombie bill would establish the boundary for offshore gas drilling at 20 miles and out.

The measure also would require that 40% of the revenues from the offshore gas drilling be turned over to the states, and would allow some of the royalties to be placed into Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program accounts, he said.

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