House OKs bills to speed oil, gas drilling
A crew works on a gas drilling rig at a well site for shale based natural gas in Zelienople, Pa. The Republican-controlled House is considering three energy bills aimed at speeding up drilling for oil and natural gas. Bills expected to win approval Wednesday would restrict the Interior Department from enforcing proposed rules to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public lands and set strict deadlines for federal approval of oil and gas permits. AP photo
WASHINGTON — The House approved two bills Wednesday aimed at speeding up drilling for oil and natural gas on public lands.
The measures were among three energy bills the House is considering this week as Republicans who control the chamber push to expand an oil and gas boom that’s lowered prices and led the U.S. to produce more oil last month than it imported from abroad.
One of the bills approved Wednesday would set strict deadlines for federal approval of oil and gas permits and expand areas open to production. Another would restrict the Interior Department from enforcing proposed rules to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public lands.
A third bill, set for approval Thursday, would streamline permitting for natural gas pipelines.
Supporters say the bills are needed to ensure that a drilling boom taking place on state and private lands extends to millions of acres, mostly in the West, under federal control.
President Barack Obama has promised to veto the bills, saying they are unnecessary and run counter to protections put in place for oil and gas drilling.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., who sponsored the bill to speed up permitting, said the current energy boom has mainly occurred on state and private lands, including the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana and the Marcellus Shale region centered in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Drilling also is booming in traditional production states such as Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.
“The only reason we haven’t seen that same dynamic growth on federal lands is because of excess regulations,” Lamborn said.
Lamborn’s bill would deem a drilling application approved if no decision is made within 60 days, set a minimum threshold for lands leased by the Bureau of Land Management and charge a $5,000 fee to groups that protest lease permits. It also would open up Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration. The House approved the measure, 228-192.
The House also approved a separate bill that would block the Interior Department from enforcing a proposed rule on hydraulic fracturing on federal lands in states where drilling regulations are already in place. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, was approved 235-187.
Democrats and environmental groups called the bill a handout to the big oil companies and said it would gut important environmental protections and stifle efforts by the public to intervene in drilling decisions.