House committee passes bill to expedite EPA permitting process

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, June 3 -- The US House Energy and Commerce Committee passed a bill aimed at removing bureaucratic obstacles from US energy development by expediting the Environmental Protection Agency’s permitting process. HR 2021, cosponsored by Reps. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Gene Green (D-Tex.), was approved by 34 to 14 votes on June 2.

Supporters said the measure would allow more oil and gas exploration on the US Outer Continental Shelf. “It will end the perpetual cycle of permits, reviews, and appeals created by EPA’s current situation for offshore exploration,” committee chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said following the vote.

“Production off the coast of Alaska could make enormous strides to decrease our foreign oil imports, refill the declining Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, and create tens of thousands of jobs,” he maintained. “This common-sense legislation is an important part of House Republicans’ efforts under the American Energy Initiative, and I look forward to a vote on the House floor soon.”

The bill passed despite the committee’s ranking minority member, Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), releasing a June 1 letter from Gina McCarthy, EPA’s assistant administrator for air and radiation, disputing Republican assertions that Shell Exploration Co. has been trying for 5 years to get permits from the agency for leases off Alaska’s coast.

‘Minor source permits’
“When people incorrectly say that Shell has been trying to get these permits for 5 years, they are starting the clock with two applications for minor source permits that were filed in December 2006, but not complete until early 2007,” McCarthy said in her letter responding to Waxman’s questions about the matter. One of the applications was for a different drilling rig, neither was for the Chukchi Sea, “and while one was for the same drill rig/sea combination at issue, Shell dropped its application on the combination from late 2007 until January 2010 and is only now working on an application for the other drill rig,” she said.

Waxman said in a June 2 letter to Upton and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), chairman of the committee’s Energy and Power Subcommittee, that McCarthy’s response clearly shows that delays actually occurred after Shell “apparently pulled applications, modified its proposed its target drilling sites on numerous occasions during this time period…. Every time Shell changed its plans, EPA had to adjust its assessment of the potential impacts on air quality and public health.”

Gardner said following the vote that drilling permit delays are occurring because of confusion between EPA and the Environmental Appeals Board. HR 2021 would remove duplication created by the EPA-EAB permitting process and make it more in line with the US Department of the Interior’s process by requiring final action within 6 months of the request, he indicated.

“This bill has the potential to create tens of thousands of jobs annually, $100 billion in payroll over the next 50 years, and 1 million b/d of oil,” Gardner said. “That is the equivalent of 10% of the foreign oil we use, which would reduce our dependence significantly.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.



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