Fate of Offshore Drilling Legislation Unknown in Waning Days of 109th Congress

A House vote on the Senate plan for offshore oil and gas drilling scheduled earlier this week was abruptly postponed before it could take place on Tuesday. In the waning hours of the last, lame duck session of the 109th Congress, the passage of any sort of energy legislation is becoming less and less likely. The showdown vote on opening up 8 million more acres in the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling was likely postponed because of eroding support from some GOP lawmakers.

The drilling legislation covers a wide swath of the US Gulf stretching from 125 miles south of the Florida Panhandle and another 300 miles offshore. It is estimated that more than 1 billion barrels of crude oil and 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas may exist in the affected areas. With the ANWR drilling legislation all but dead, the gulf area has taken on new importance in the energy picture for the United States.

While another attempt at passing drilling legislation might be attempted, it will likely take the form of an attachment to other legislation. The house has its own version of the drilling package, but that bill is much more aggressive than the Senate version. Sponsors are hoping that the Senate version can be passed before the end of this abbreviated session. Prospects for passage of either Bill when the 110th Congress convenes in January are very poor, especially with control of both the house and senate passing to the Democrats.

The offshore oil and gas drilling legislation, under any circumstances, faces numerous hurdles. Within the Democratic party, lawmakers are forced to balance the needs of environmentalists against the badly needed revenues and royalties which offshore drilling could provide to places like the state of Louisiana. And the percentage of federal royalties slated for Gulf Coast recovery efforts is another sticking point. As MarEx went on-line with this edition, the possibility of the drilling bill being brought to the floor as a standalone measure was still being contemplated by GOP leaders.