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In a 235-186 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation written by Doc Hastings (R-Was.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, that dramatically expands domestic offshore drilling.

The bill, which has received a veto threat from the White House, would require the Obama administration to submit a new five-year offshore leasing plan that would allow lease sales off the coasts of Virginia, South Carolina, and California. It also requires the administration to set increased oil and natural gas production goals. The House voted on several amendments to the bill on June 27.

Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans in both chambers largely support the intent behind legislation that would implement an offshore drilling deal between the United States and Mexico. However, House Republicans added language to the bill earlier this month that would shield oil and gas companies from Dodd-Frank disclosure requirements for payments to foreign governments. The move infuriated Democrats, who say the language amounts to a poison pill. A Senate version of the bill does not exempt oil companies from the disclosure requirements.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said the Dodd-Frank disclosure rules “can help diminish the political instability caused by opaque governments,” noting that the measure opens oil companies’ payments for natural resources development to public scrutiny. House Republicans defended the bill, casting it as part of the GOP’s push to expand oil and gas drilling and avoiding a detailed discussion of Democrats’ concerns.

The legislation would authorize the Interior Department to implement a 2012 agreement between the United States and Mexico that establishes a framework for oil and gas development in the Western Gap, a 1.5 million-acre area in the Gulf of Mexico that straddles the maritime boundary between the two countries.

The Interior Department estimates that the Western Gap contains 172 million barrels of oil and 304 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

The bill was non-controversial until House Republicans added their language, which exempts public companies from Section 1504 of Dodd-Frank as well as SEC regulations that require the disclosure of payments to foreign governments as part of trans-boundary oil and gas agreements.

The oil industry has been aggressively pushing for repeal of the requirements, arguing that they put U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage.

Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee; and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ark.), the top Republican on the panel, have introduced their own version of the legislation. The bill authorizes the trans-boundary agreement but does not include the language circumventing Dodd-Frank.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (R-La.) and Murkowski are also working on a separate bill providing revenue sharing for all energy production offshore and onshore. The Senate energy committee is expected to hold a hearing next month after Landrieu and Murkowski introduce a new version of their bill.

Posted in: Washington News
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