House GOP urges Interior to open up new offshore drilling areas

More than 160 House Republicans are urging the Obama administration to open up more areas to offshore drilling in a new five-year lease plan for oil and gas development.

The Republicans claim that opening areas of the Outer Continental Shelf that have otherwise remained off-limits, such as the Atlantic, Arctic, and parts of the Pacific oceans, would generate roughly $160 billion between 2017 and 2035.

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The Interior Department is currently gathering comments from oil and gas companies, conservation groups and others to determine which parts of the seabed will be included in its lease sales for 2017–2022.

"We believe the Department must move forward with a five-year program that continue to lease in the Gulf of Mexico but also includes new areas with the greatest resources potential as well as areas such as the Mid-and-South Atlantic, or the Arctic, where there is strong bipartisan support from members of Congress, governors, state legislators, local leaders and the general public for allowing oil and natural gas development," the letter sent to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Friday states.

"A legacy of leasing in existing areas will not put out nation's offshore energy production on sound footing," it adds.

Environmental groups also sent a letter to Jewell, warning that expanding lease sales to the Atlantic, Arctic, and other new areas would undermine the president's climate change agenda.

Environmentalists argue that expanding offshore drilling would lead to more air pollution, and harm fragile ecosystems.

The Interior Department said earlier this week that it plans to extend its request-for-information period 15 days, giving businesses, green groups and others more time to offer feedback on the lease sale.

Recently, the department also said it would open the Atlantic to seismic testing for oil and gas deposits. It's the first time in nearly 30 years that companies will be able to explore the Atlantic using air guns and sonar tests. The move signaled that the administration may open up the Atlantic to future drilling.

"Opening our coasts to more oil and gas lease sales has the potential to create thousands of new jobs and billions in new capital," Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said in a statement on Friday.

Cassidy signed Friday's letter to Jewell, along with Reps. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), and Rob Bishop (R-Utah), and more than 160 other House Republicans.