Senate clears bill to implement drilling pact

The Senate approved legislation Saturday to implement a U.S.-Mexico pact that would enable offshore drilling cooperation along a maritime boundary in the Gulf of Mexico.

The bill to implement the 2012 U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Hydrocarbons Agreement quickly cleared the Senate by “unanimous consent,” avoiding a roll call vote.

The drilling pact – which backers say would provide legal certainty needed to enable development along the Gulf boundary – has bipartisan support. But the Senate legislation differs from a House-approved version of the implementing bill.

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Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's top Republican, cheered the Senate bill’s passage.

“Today’s ratification of the transboundary agreement establishes important ground rules for developing the oil and gas reservoirs along our shared maritime border with Mexico. That in itself is an important step in improving our energy security,” Murkowski said in a statement Saturday.

“But in addition to opening up nearly 1.5 million acres of the outer continental shelf, it also ensures that any exploration along our maritime border adheres to the highest degree of safety and environmental standards. I consider that a win-win for both countries,” she said.

The House-approved bill gives companies operating under the U.S.-Mexico pact waivers from a Dodd-Frank law mandate to disclose payments to foreign governments, drawing White House criticism.

House leadership aides did not respond to an inquiry Saturday about whether they are prepared to accept the Senate plan.

But a powerful oil industry lobbying group said in early October that it backed passage of the Senate plan that lacks the Dodd-Frank carve-out.

The American Petroleum Institute has previously called for the Dodd-Frank exemption, but its support for advancement of the Senate plan could signal that advocates of the underlying drilling pact are willing to lay the House provision aside.

And the landscape has changed since the House approved its version of the bill last June.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is planning to re-write the Dodd-Frank regulation in question after a federal judge struck it down in July.

The underlying U.S.-Mexico pact would make 1.5 million acres available for development that had previously been off-limits, and more broadly make the entire transboundary area more attractive to companies by ending legal uncertainties, according the Interior Department.

In addition, enabling cooperation among U.S.-based companies and Mexican state oil giant PEMEX will “mitigate the safety and environmental risks that would result from unilateral exploration and development along the boundary,” a senior Interior official told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in early October.


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