Rahall plans offshore drilling hearing as GOP calls White House plan too narrow

The administration plan includes eventual oil-and-gas leasing off the coast of mid-Atlantic and southeastern states – areas that until 2008 were covered by drilling bans.

It also calls for expanded leasing in the eastern Gulf of Mexico – if Congress shrinks the no-drilling buffer there that’s currently in place until mid-2022.

In addition, the administration envisions expanded Arctic oil exploration off the northern coast of Alaska in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, although it cancels several upcoming lease sales there to allow further study.

 However, the plan places Alaska’s sensitive Bristol Bay region off-limits and does not call for leasing off the Pacific Coast.

While many environmental groups and some liberal Democrats have attacked the drilling expansion, many Republicans say it is too limited.

A letter to Rahall Tuesday from every GOP member of the Natural Resources Committee calls for a hearing that includes Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, White House climate and energy adviser Carol Browner, and a host of industry group witnesses.

They attack the lease sale cancellations and accuse the Obama administration of a “delay” in offshore drilling, a reference to Interior’s decision not to embrace a more expansive draft Bush-era leasing plan that would cover 2010-2015.

Interior instead envisions its leasing expansion in the 2012-2017 period (the current Interior offshore program runs from 2007-2012, minus the cancelled Alaska lease sales).

“Our oversight responsibilities demand that the Committee act promptly to hold a hearing to examine the decisions made by the Administration to delay and obstruct offshore energy production and job creation,” the 20 Republicans write.

Click here to see a map that describes the Obama administration's Alaska offshore drilling strategy.

Click here to see a map that describes the Obama administration's Atlantic Coast and Gulf of Mexico drilling strategies.