Washington (Platts)--12Jun2013/527 pm EDT/2127 GMT
A US House of Representatives committee on Wednesday approved three Republican bills aimed at expanding domestic oil and natural gas production, setting up likely approval by the House sometime this summer.
But faced with opposition from the Obama administration and congressional Democrats, the bills stand long odds of even being considered by the Senate, let alone becoming law.
The bills, which were approved largely along party lines, were among the 14 bills the Republican-controlled House Natural Resources Committee marked up on Wednesday.
One of the most contentious was the Offshore Energy and Jobs Act (H.R. 2231), which was introduced just last week by Representative Doc Hastings, a Washington Republican and the committee's chairman. The bill would open up much of the Outer Continental Shelf to offshore oil and gas drilling in an effort to spur federal lease sales off the coasts of California, South Carolina and Virginia.
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The bill passed by a 23-18 vote, but faced stiff opposition from Democrats, who said Hastings was pushing for oil and gas production in areas ill-equipped for the industry or the potential risks it presents.
"This expansion isn't necessary and the risk is large," said Representative Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat.
Representative Alan Lowenthal, a California Democrat who unsuccessfully attempted Wednesday to amend the bill so it would prohibit drilling off his state's 800 mile coastline, said offshore oil and gas drilling is opposed at all levels of government in his state.
"We would rather preserve it for future generations than jeopardize it for short term gains," he said.
Representative Jon Runyan, a New Jersey Republican, attempted to include an amendment in the bill which would make offshore drilling contingent on a popular vote in the state off of which drilling would take place. But Hastings said such a vote could not stop that drilling since waters over three miles offshore are federal government jurisdiction and not subject to state law.
The committee also approved another Hastings bill, the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska Access Act (H.R. 1964), which would force the Department of Interior to open the reserve to oil and gas lease sales. At least one federal lease sale would be required to be held in the reserve over the next 10 years under the bill.
The bill was passed by a 26-14 vote amid opposition from Democrats since it would abandon an Obama administration plan for the area, and because of the millions of dollars in costs of oil and gas studies required by the bill.
But Representative Don Young, an Alaska Republican, said the Obama administration's plan, however, ignores the long-term intended use of the reserve.
"This is a petroleum reserve, not a park, not a refuge," Young said. "Do we want this oil for America? We need that fossil fuel. This is a bill that will make that happen."
The committee also approved Young's Native American Energy Act (H.R. 1548) by a 25-15 vote. The bill is aimed at easing energy development on Indian lands. Among other elements, the bill would limit federal environmental reviews for certain tribal energy projects, and block the Department of Interior from imposing a hydraulic fracturing rule on Indian trust land. The measure would also allow the Navajo Nation to issue mineral leases without federal approval. Young introduced a similar bill in 2012 (H.R. 3973), but it was never taken up by the House.