House GOP to push administration on offshore drilling amid unrest in Libya

Key House Republicans plan to argue next month that the Obama administration should act swiftly to issue offshore oil-and-gas drilling permits amid the political unrest in Libya and other countries.

The House Natural Resources Committee said Wednesday it is holding two hearings in March on what Republicans have termed the administration’s “de facto moratorium” on deepwater oil-and-gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

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The administration has issued no deepwater permits since the last year's BP spill, and has slowed the pace for shallow-water projects. The Interior Department, which is in charge of issuing permits, has said it will begin issuing deepwater permits once drillers are able to prove they're complying with a series of new safety regulations.

But Republicans and some drill-state Democrats have slammed the administration for not yet issuing deepwater permits, and for slowing the pace of shallow-water permitting. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has even put a hold on a key Interior Department nominee over his drilling concerns.

The political unrest in North Africa and the Middle East has only heightened Republicans’ concerns. While Egypt is not a major oil producer, Libya, which is now facing major political strife, is the world’s 17th largest oil producer.

Oil prices have steadily increased amid the uprising in Libya. While the International Energy Agency and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries said Tuesday they could make up for supply losses from Libya, analysts have raised concerns that the unrest could spread to other major oil producers, leading to significant supply shortages.

Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, has raised concerns about the effects of the unrest in Libya on gas prices. In a statement Tuesday, Hastings’s office said the protests there could lead to “record prices at the pump.”

Spencer Pederson, a Hastings spokesman, said Libya will be a major topic of discussion at the hearings.

“I think that whenever Chairman Hastings talks about increased domestic oil production in general, he talks about it in the framework of national security, and that’s highlighted by what’s happening in North Africa,” Pederson said. “I think that will be a strong backdrop to the conversation.”

On March 16, the full committee will host a hearing on the administration’s offshore drilling policies. The hearing will include testimony “from impacted States, communities, and local businesses.”

On March 30, the committee will hear testimony from Michael Bromwich, who heads the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. The committee is also planning a field hearing in Louisiana in April.

But analysts say that increasing domestic oil-and-gas production in the United States will have little impact on the cost of gas, which is determined by a number of complex factors. For example, the Energy Information Administration said in a 2009 that opening up large swaths of the Outer Continental Shelf to drilling would only affect gas prices by 3 cents.


—This post was updated at 12:33 p.m.