Gulf oil exploration deal with Mexico headed to Congress, State Dept. says

The Obama administration will shortly be asking Congress to approve last year's deal with Mexico for oil exploration in the Gulf, the State Department said.

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The so-called Transboundary Hydrocarbons Agreement, signed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Felipe Calderón on the margins of last year's G-20 summit in Los Cabos, establishes a legal framework for joint U.S.-Mexican exploration. The agreement also lifts the moratorium on oil exploration and production in the Western Gap portion of the Gulf of Mexico.

“Let me assure you that this will be coming in front of Congress,” Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, said Thursday at a House hearing on U.S. interests in the region. “I hope we can count on everyone's support. We hope to do that as expeditiously as possible.”

The State Department is still debating whether the deal with Mexico is a treaty or a simple agreement that doesn't need congressional approval, a congressional source said. If it's a treaty, it would have to be ratified by the Senate and sent to the House as a courtesy.

Jacobson called the agreement “a breakthrough agreement not only in what it may permit us to do, which I think is going to be very positive, but in demonstrating to both of our publics that we can work together on energy issues, including on oil issues.

“This is an area of the Gulf that has long been left unexplored because there wasn't legal certainty about such exploration. And what we were able to achieve with Mexico, I think to the benefit of both countries, will be incredibly important.”

Jacobson was responding to a query from Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), the new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee's subpanel on the Western Hemisphere. Salmon laid out his goals for the panel during his first hearing since taking over.

“I will seek to promote energy independence and economic growth by seeking to strengthen U.S. trade relations with Mexico,” he said, “and by supporting the U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Agreement that was signed in February of last year.”