Senior House Republican unveils leadership-backed plan to boost offshore drilling

“In response to the Obama Administration’s aggressive fight against domestic energy production, today, House Republicans have taken another important step to encourage economic growth, create jobs and lower gas prices through the introduction of three bills from the Natural Resources Committee,” Cantor said in a statement.

Hastings unveiled three bills. One would force the Interior Department to move more quickly on offshore drilling permit requests by requiring action – though not approval per se – within 30 days of receiving an application. Two 15-day extensions are possible, but if Interior still has not acted after a total of 60 days, a permit is "deemed" approved.

It also would require fast action to allow resumption of drilling under permits that were approved before the deepwater drilling moratorium was imposed in late May in response to the BP spill, a summary states.

Interior lifted the ban in October and began issuing deepwater drilling permits under beefed-up safety standards in late February – roughly a half-dozen so far – but critics maintain that Interior is slow-walking both deepwater and shallow-water projects.

A second bill would force the Interior Department to sell oil-and-gas leases, beginning with Interior’s 2012 to 2017 offshore plan, in coastal areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and expand leasing off Alaska’s coast.

Atlantic and Pacific leasing bans lapsed in 2008. The White House laid out plans in March 2010 to sell leases off the coasts of mid-Atlantic and southeastern states in the 2012 to 2017 period, and called for a major expansion of Alaskan leasing.

But the White House – reversing course following the BP spill – abandoned the Atlantic plan in December and sounded more cautious notes about future Alaskan leasing.

The Obama administration has never planned any oil-and-gas leasing off the Pacific Coast.

Hastings’ bill specifically requires that the 2012 to 2017 leasing plan offer at least 50 percent of the areas with the “greatest known reserves,” defined as areas believed to contain 2.5 billion barrels of oil or 7.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

A third bill would set a deadline for nearer-term Gulf of Mexico lease sales in areas where drilling is already allowed and require a lease sale for a tract off Virginia’s coast that had been canceled.

The Virginia lease sale would have to occur within a year of the bill’s signing, and the Gulf sales would have to occur before June 1, 2012 or within a year of the bill’s enactment, a summary states.

This post was updated at 1:55 p.m. on April 13