Bills Requiring US Action on Oil Leases, Permits Gain Support

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones Newswires), Apr. 1, 2011

A proposal to require the Obama administration to sell offshore oil leases and act on drilling permits within a set time frame gained more supporters Thursday, with Senate Republicans introducing legislation to do so a day after House Republicans backed the idea.

The bills announced by Senate Republicans also took a far broader approach than the House proposals and included a grab bag of initiatives. The Senate bills would open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska for drilling and direct royalty monies on those lands to "renewable energy development," according to a summary of the legislation distributed by the office of Sen. David Vitter (R., La.).

They would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to reissue a permit to a much-debated coal mine project operated by Arch Coal Inc. (ACI) in West Virginia, direct the State Department to issue permits for TransCanada Corp.'s (TRP) proposed pipeline connecting producers extracting oil from sands in Alberta, Canada, to the central U.S., and prevent the administration from considering greenhouse gases linked to climate change if the administration moves to protect endangered fish or wildlife.

The set of bills announced Thursday by Vitter, John Barrasso (R., Wyo.), and 26 other senators would also require the administration to conduct lease sales in the outer continental shelf, including in the Gulf of Mexico and Virginia.

The bills would require the Interior Department, which oversees offshore oil and gas drilling, to act on permits within 40 days, including a 10-day period for the applicant to respond to possible problems. The House Republicans' bill would require action within 60 days, depending on the application.

The bills have support from many Republicans, but at least one has expressed concern that they outline too rigid a framework.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, (R., Alaska), the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy Committee, which oversees the Interior Department, told reporters Wednesday that she had "reservations" about rigid timetables for permitting and leasing.

"I think it's important to understand that not all permits may be equal and all leases are not equal," Murkowski said, explaining that permits and leases in less explored areas in Alaska might take longer than permits in "well-established" areas in the Gulf.

"If what we are doing is putting in place a more efficient permitting process, I'm all over it, but I think you need to give yourself a little bit of leeway in the event that it's not a 'one size fits all' type of approach," Murkowski said.

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