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U.S. House Approves Bill That Seeks To Speed Up Offshore Drilling Permits

By Tennille Tracy Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to impose deadlines on the Obama administration to issue offshore drilling permits, as Republicans renew calls for greater amounts of domestic oil production amid rising gasoline prices. The House passed the legislation Wednesday, approving two of three bills that seek to expand and speed up the pace of offshore oil and gas drilling. The Senate, however, which is controlled by Democrats, is unlikely to approve the measure. The Senate is instead looking to repeal tax breaks given to the largest oil and gas companies, including Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSA, RDSB, RDSA.LN, RDSB.LN) and Chevron Corp. (CVX). The bill approved Wednesday follows months during which oil and gas companies, particularly those operating in the Gulf of Mexico, have complained about the length of time it has taken the Interior Department to review and issue drilling permits in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. These companies have accused the department of imposing a de facto moratorium on drilling after lifting a real moratorium on deepwater drilling in October 2010. Top Interior Department officials have defended their permit reviews, saying reviews are taking longer because they have to ensure compliance with stringent new standards developed in the wake of the oil spill. The bill cleared the House by a vote of 263 to 163, with votes falling mostly along partly lines. The bill is part of a package of legislation, introduced by Republicans, that seeks to expand or speed up offshore drilling. Earlier this month, the House approved the first of those bills, aimed at forcing the Obama administration to hold lease sales planned for the Gulf of Mexico and off the Virginia coast. This most recent bill requires the Interior Department to issue or deny a permit application within 30 days of receiving it, although it allows the department an additional 30 days if necessary. Under current law, the Interior Department isn't obligated to issue or deny permits in any particular time frame. -By Tennille Tracy, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-862-6619; tennille.tracy@dowjones.com

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