Salazar outlines administration wish list for drilling reform bill

Salazar called on lawmakers to amend a 1920 drilling law to allow lease sales that are less than 10 years in length in order to “encourage more prompt investment in domestic oil and gas development.”

He also called for the authority to impose fees on companies with nonproducing oil-and-gas leases, part of an effort by the administration and Democrats to impose so-called “use it or lose it” standards on leases.

In addition, Congress needs to pass “organic” legislation codifying beefed-up safety and environmental standards imposed by Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) in the aftermath of last year’s spill, Salazar said.

The legislation would extend the review time for exploration plans; authorize the Ocean Energy Safety Institute, a coalition of industry and environmental groups and academics to develop new spill safety standards; formalize the reorganization of BOEMRE; and allow the agency to hire new personnel.

Lastly, Salazar called for eliminating a $75 million cap on economic liability from oil spills and increasing civil and criminal penalties for violating Interior’s safety and environmental regulations.

Salazar’s comments come as Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) is pushing offshore drilling safety legislation that echoes a bill passed by the panel last year.

Bingaman introduced bills last week to impose more stringent drilling-safety standards and boost loan guarantees for a planned Alaska natural-gas pipeline, among other things. He has said he hopes to vote on both bills before the Memorial Day recess.

On Wednesday, the Senate will hold a procedural vote on legislation authored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that would impose a series of measures aimed at expanding offshore oil-and-gas drilling.

The legislation, which mirrors bills passed by House Republicans in recent weeks, would require the Interior Department to hold lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Virginia coast; would set a timeline for review of pending offshore permit applications; and would extend leases in the Gulf for one year, among other things.

Salazar and BOEMRE Director Michael Bromwich blasted on Tuesday a provision in the bill that would require the Interior Department to make a decision on permit applications within 30 days, with two 15-day extensions. If Interior does not make a decision within 60 days, the permit application would be deemed approved.

Salazar said the provision would “Pull out the rug from what it is we’re trying to do here.”

Bromwich called the measure “a profoundly bad idea.”