House Republicans push alternative offshore drilling plan

House Republicans are pushing back against the Obama administration’s just-unveiled plan for selling offshore drilling leases over the next five years by seeking to replace it with a more aggressive alternative.

The House Natural Resources Committee is set to vote July 18 on the GOP plan. The measure, advanced by panel chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., would replace the Interior Department’s plan to hold 12 sales of oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico from 2012-2017 and conduct three auctions of offshore drilling rights in waters around Alaska.

Hastings’ alternative would schedule 28 lease sales and allow oil companies several opportunities to bid on drilling rights in the Chukchi and Beaufort sea north of Alaska. It would schedule a sale of North Aleutian Basin drilling rights in 2016 and give energy companies two cracks at leases off the south California coast in 2014 and 2017.

Hastings’ bill also would force a sale of offshore drilling leases in an area off the coast of Virginia, which was originally scheduled for 2011. Although some Virginia leaders have lobbied hard for the sale, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said last month that the government decided not to sell leases in the area amid opposition from other Atlantic Coast states and concerns raised by the Defense Department, which conducts exercises in the region.

Hastings said his legislation “would replace the energy-restricting and job-limiting Obama plan with a responsible, robust offshore drilling plan that will create new jobs by safely opening new areas known to possess the greatest offshore energy resources.”

Salazar has insisted that the administration’s five-year drilling plan is both “aggressive” and responsible, by targeting development in areas where there is existing infrastructure and geophysical data about the oil and gas resources that could be lurking under the sea bed. Seismic data about East Coast resources is decades old.

Hastings’ House Natural Resources Committee is taking advantage of a statutorily required 60-day window for congressional review of outer continental shelf leasing plans.

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