Top House Republican to offer drilling bill

While Hastings' comment is light on details, it nonetheless signifies that he is readying a legislative push after spending weeks deflecting questions about his specific plans.

Spencer Pederson, Hastings' spokesman, told The Hill on Wednesday that the legislation will be introduced before the end of the month. Hastings is "actively working to finalize provisions of proposed legislation," Pederson said.

Hastings decried what Republicans have termed a “de facto moratorium” in the Gulf of Mexico since last year’s massive oil spill.

The pace of issuing offshore permits in the region since the spill has slowed down. But the Interior Department has issued two deepwater permits in recent weeks for the type of projects that were halted after the BP spill. The department has also issued several dozen shallow-water permits since the spill, although the industry wants faster action.

The administration says it is working diligently to ensure drilling continues in the Gulf. But officials stress that oil companies must comply with stringent new safety standards before receiving permits, including demonstrating the ability to contain undersea well blowouts.

Hastings also said that he will introduce legislation to expand drilling in other offshore regions. “I also intend to take legislative action to reverse President Obama’s imposition of an offshore drilling moratorium outside the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.

Hastings and other Republicans were furious late last year when the White House walked back plans for a major expansion of offshore oil-and-gas leasing in coming years.

Last March the White House proposed selling oil-and-gas leases off the Atlantic Coast, and more widely in waters off Alaska’s coast, and asked Congress to ease restrictions in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

The Deepwater Horizon rig blew up the next month, and, in December, the administration abandoned the eastern Gulf and Atlantic plans and sounded more cautious about Alaskan leasing.

Republicans and pro-drilling Democrats have also bashed the administration for failing to give Shell Oil the green light thus far to conduct exploratory drilling on its existing leases in Arctic waters off Alaska's northern coast.

The Hill's Ben Geman contributed to this story

This story was updated at 12:44 p.m.