Gulf Production Amendment Possible from Dorgan, Craig

A pair of prominent senators are mulling an amendment attempt that would expand offshore oil and gas production as part of an energy bill up for debate next week.

Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Larry Craig (R-Idaho) have floated plans to allow drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico as close as 45 miles from Florida's coast.

They offered and withdrew the plan when the Energy and Natural Resources Committee marked up major portions of the Senate energy bill last month (E&E Daily, May 3). Dorgan and Craig's drilling proposal initially surfaced in a larger energy bill they introduced in March (E&E Daily, March 14)

"I expect that [the amendment] will be discussed on the floor of the Senate," Dorgan said of his offshore drilling effort. "I am not sure exactly what form, I have not talked to Senator Craig yet, but we have obviously proposed that and believe that ought to be a product of some discussion on the floor during the energy bill."

Legislation expected on the Senate floor next week, S. 1419, would mandate increases in biofuels and vehicle mileage. It also aims to increase energy efficiency, advance carbon sequestration and prevent gasoline "price gouging."

Congress enacted a compromise bill last year that expanded Gulf of Mexico leasing by over 8 million acres. But efforts to further expand offshore drilling are likely to face a very steep climb in both chambers during the 110th Congress.

Nonetheless, supporters are continuing to press onward. Reps. John Peterson (R-Pa.) and Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) plan to reintroduce offshore drilling legislation within the next several weeks, a spokesman for Peterson said yesterday. Peterson and Abercrombie have stressed that elevated natural gas prices in recent years are harming manufacturing, farming and other industries.

Their bill would lift outer continental shelf leasing restrictions -- which currently cover most coastal areas -- to allow "gas-only" leasing. The bill is designed to give states control of drilling policy within the first 100 miles of their shores and would permit a share of offshore production revenues.

According to Peterson's office, leasing bans would remain intact within 25 miles of state shores, while leasing would be allowed between 25 and 50 miles with state approval. Between 50 and 100 miles, development would automatically be allowed unless states pass legislation to prevent it.

Peterson spokesman Travis Windle said the bill would steer drilling revenues into environmental restoration projects, low-income heating programs, and renewable energy research and development.

Copyright 2007 E&E Daily. All Rights Reserved. Visit E&E Daily for a free trial.

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