Senate GOP plans new energy push to approve Keystone XL, expand drilling

GOP senators will roll out legislation Thursday that would require expanded onshore oil-and-gas leasing, allow drilling off Virginia’s coast, and approve the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, aides said.

“It’s American energy and jobs related to that energy,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who is among the co-sponsors of Sen. John Hoeven's (R-N.D.) bill. “It’s American energy, which is part of our energy security and our national security.”

The bill is highly unlikely to clear the Democrat-controlled Senate, but will provide a platform for GOP messaging on energy as Republicans continue to hammer the White House on the topic.

Hoeven's bill has also attracted co-sponsorship from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other members of the GOP leadership team, a Senate aide said.

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The plan’s arrival follows passage of various House measures that would require the Interior Department to auction far more federal lands and waters to oil companies than the Obama administration supports.

Aides said the upcoming Senate GOP plan will include steps to streamline onshore oil-and-gas drilling permits, and boost the amount of revenues from offshore production that are steered to Gulf of Mexico states, who first won revenue-sharing under a 2006 energy law.

While the upcoming bill has some offshore provisions, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is planning a “complementary” plan that will include a more expansive offshore drilling component, spokesman Robert Dillon said.

Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is co-sponsoring Hoeven's bill that's arriving Thursday, Dillon said.

Republicans contend that the Obama administration is making too few areas available for energy producers.

The House is expected to approve a bill Wednesday that would greatly expand offshore leasing to include sales off the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts, and accelerate leasing in Arctic waters off Alaska’s northern shore.

But administration officials, rebutting GOP attacks, note that U.S. oil and natural gas production has grown during the president’s tenure, and say their 2012-2017 offshore plan makes large resources available to drillers. The White House has threatened to veto the House bill.

Hoeven is the co-chair of the GOP platform committee for next month’s Republican National Convention.

The Republican National Committee hosted a meeting with a group of energy industry lobbyists Monday afternoon to gather input on the platform. 

Hoeven told E2-Wire on Tuesday that he’s casting a wider net too, stating that “we are going to be open to all input.”

“We need to empower private investment and we can get to energy security in this country within five to seven years by unleashing the private investment, and that not only will produce more energy, it will deploy the new technologies that will give us better environmental stewardship,” he said Tuesday when asked about the shape of the platform.

Hoeven is a major advocate of TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would carry crude from Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries. The proposed pipeline is also slated to carry oil from the booming Bakken formation in North Dakota.

Environmental groups bitterly oppose Keystone, citing ecological damage from the massive Canadian oil sands projects, greenhouse gases, and fears about spills along the pipeline route, among other concerns.

Republicans are pushing for immediate approval of Keystone while the White House says that would short-circuit review. The administration does not plan on making a decision on Keystone until next year.

Mitt Romney has said he would approve Keystone on “day one” of his presidency if he defeats Obama.

This post was updated at 5:19 p.m.

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