US Senator Pressures Regulators to Extend Drilling Leases

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones Newswires), Aug. 3, 2011

Sen. David Vitter (R., La.) is trying to pressure the Obama administration into extending hundreds of oil-drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

In an announcement Wednesday, Vitter said he would block the nomination of a top official to the U.S. Interior Department until the department extends drilling leases set to expire this year.

Vitter contends the Interior Department adopted policies in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that hampered drilling activity. As a result, he says companies should be allowed to operate for more time on their existing leases.

Vitter says there are more than 300 offshore leases in the Gulf of Mexico that are set to expire this year.

"If these leases are allowed to expire, they will revert to the federal government, killing jobs and cutting off potential revenue from exploration and production," Vitter said in a statement.

A spokesman for the Interior Department called the senator's move "perplexing" because the department has already taken steps to grant lease extensions. In June, for example, the Interior Department outlined a basic set of the criteria under which it would grant extensions.

"Sen. Vitter's request is perplexing, and we expect that he will lift his hold since we took action on this a month-and-a-half ago," spokesman Adam Fletcher said.

Vitter has been one of the most vocal critics of the administration's decision to impose a temporary ban on deepwater drilling in the wake of the oil spill. He has also complained about the pace of new permitting in the months since the ban was lifted in October.

Earlier this year, Vitter blocked the nomination of Daniel Ashe as director of the Fish and Wildlife Service until the Interior Department issued 15 deepwater exploration well permits. Vitter has since lifted his hold and Ashe has been confirmed to the post.

This time around, the senator is putting a hold on the nomination of Rebecca Wodder to become the assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks at the Interior Department.

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