House Committee Passes Bill on Online Lease Sales for Offshore Drilling

The House Natural Resources Committee passed a bill Wednesday calling on the Department of the Interior to hold online lease sales for offshore oil and gas exploratory drilling.

The bill, which was sponsored by Reps. Garret Graves (R-La.) and Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), aims to increase transparency and attract more bidders, which ultimately leads to higher returns for taxpayers, Graves said at a subcommittee hearing on the bill earlier this month.

Despite its Democratic co-sponsor, the bill has attracted some objections from environmentalists and the Obama administration. BOEM Deputy Director Walter Cruickshank told a Natural Resources subcommittee earlier this month that the bill is too prescriptive, calling specifically for a live-streamed system of lease sales, he said. And it only gives the agency one year to implement the policy, which Cruickshank said isn’t enough time. The committee didn’t make any changes to the bill based on those complaints before passing it.

Environmentalists are also concerned the online bidding system will undermine protesters who oppose offshore drilling. Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director and senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity, told Morning Consult last week that an online lease-sale system “chills the voices of protesters.”

Graves said he doesn’t hope to undermine protesters with this bill. And Lowenthal said he doesn’t even support any offshore drilling in the Arctic, but likes the transparency measures in the bill.

The National Ocean Industries Association praised the bill’s passage on Wednesday, calling it a “commonsense” measure.

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