The Year That Was(n’t) – D.C. Action Was Rare

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

The 112th Congress (January 2011 to January 2013) has passed little legislation – in fact, it set a record for inactivity, and no bills impacting petroleum exploration and production have been passed.

A few pieces of legislation, however, have passed either the Senate or the House and could be resurrected in the lame-duck session, starting after the Nov. 6 election, or could be reintroduced in the 113th Congress in 2013.

A look at what has been accomplished so far in the 112th Congress is revealing:

  • Slightly over 10,000 bills have been introduced.
  • Twenty-five bills relating to oil and gas exploration and production have been introduced, but none have passed both houses of Congress.
  • One hundred seventy nine bills have passed both houses of Congress and been signed into law by the president. That total represents less than 2 percent of bills introduced.
  • Of those 179, 21 percent were to rename a federal building.

u In comparison, the 110th Congress, which introduced a record 14,000 bills, passed 460, or 3.3 percent, of which 32 percent renamed a federal building.

This lack of accomplishment, according to most pundits and citizens, reflects a body that is highly polarized and that lacks a large cadre of members committed to compromise. Given the historic inaction, Congress is unlikely to pass any energy bills in the lame-duck session, between the Nov. 6 elections and when the next Congress starts on Jan. 3, 2013.

What follows is a summary of oil and gas exploration and production legislation that was introduced into the 112th Congress. This serves as not only a history lesson, but a predictive tool.

At least some of the bills introduced into the 112th Congress are likely to be reintroduced in the future and some may become law.

Many bills were introduced while a controversial issue was in the news. For example, in the first year of the 112th Congress bills were introduced in both the House (H.R.1084) and Senate (S. 587) to repeal the oil industry exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act and require that companies disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. This was when the movie “Gasland” had recently come out and fracking with a “k” had just entered the popular lexicon.

Both bills have been ignored by Congress since they were introduced in early 2011.

In May 2012 the Bureau of Land Management announced draft regulations that would require proof of wellbore integrity (a cement bond log) before a well on federal land could be hydraulically fractured. This action stimulated the introduction of a suite of bills that would allow states to regulate wells on federal lands:

  • H.R. 4322, to clarify that a state has the sole authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing on federal land within the boundaries of the state.
  • H.R. 6235, Federal Lands Energy Regulatory Certainty Act of 2012.
  • S. 2248, Fracturing Regulations are Effective in State Hands Act.

None of these bills has made it to the first step of a committee hearing.

Of 25 oil and gas exploration and production bills introduced, 14 of the bills would require the government to increase leasing of federal lands, onshore and offshore, and Native American lands.

For example, H.R. 1230, Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act, would require a lease sale of lands offshore Virginia, and H.R. 4301, the Energy Exploration and Production to Achieve National Demand Act, would repeal the drilling moratorium in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. H.R. 1231, Reversing President Obama’s Offshore Moratorium Act, would require lease sales in the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean and eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Legislation to open the eastern Gulf of Mexico has been introduced in the past but has never gained much traction, perhaps because the citizens of Florida, regardless of their political affiliations, oppose drilling close to their shores.

Several of the bills impacting leasing apply specifically to Alaska federal lands and waters. For example, H.R. 2150, the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska (NPR-A) Access Act, would require:

  • At least one lease sale per year in NPR-A.
  • Timely development of surface infrastructure to support oil production.
  • A resource assessment of NPR-A by the U.S. Geological Survey.

This bill reflects another common theme in energy legislation introduced over the years: A government assessment of the undiscovered resource is required on the assumption that the information will stimulate or accelerate development.

The value of this requirement is dubious. Resource assessments of the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf have not stimulated new leasing.

Three of the energy bills specify actions to improve the federal permitting process. For example, H.R. 4383, Streamlining Permitting of American Energy Act of 2012; H.R. 945, Streamlining America's Various Energy Needs Act; and H.R. 1115, Streamlining America's Various Energy Needs Act, would have federal agencies expedite their permit approval process.

Finally, several bills were introduced and one passed (H.R. 3765, Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011, Public Law 112-78) to force the president to quickly approve the application for the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas. The president did not approve the initial application, but the pipeline permitting process is continuing – haltingly.

Although the controversy continues and is extensively covered by the news media, the issue has not generated any legislation since December 2011.

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Policy Watch - Edie Allison

Edie Allison is Director of the AAPG Geoscience and Energy Office in Washington, D.C.

Policy Watch

Policy Watch is a monthly column of the EXPLORER written by the director of AAPG's  Geoscience and Energy Office in Washington, D.C. *The first article appeared in February 2006 under the name "Washington Watch" and the column name was changed to "Policy Watch" in January 2013 to broaden the subject matter to a more global view.

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