Politics & Government

Duncan bill opens Gulf to more drilling

The U.S. House voted Thursday to open about 1.5 million acres in the western Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling as part of an agreement negotiated by the Obama administration and promoted by Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan.

If approved by the Senate, the bill would implement a 2012 deal between the U.S. and Mexico to allow offshore drilling along their maritime border, an area believed to hold up to 172 million barrels of oil and 304 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

“We’re willing to say the administration got this one right,” Duncan, of Laurens, said Wednesday during a meeting with House GOP leaders. “This is another step toward lessening our dependence on foreign oil.”

The House vote was 256-171, mostly along party lines. Voting yes were 228 Republicans and 28 Democrats.

Despite its bipartisan origins, Duncan’s bill was controversial. Democrats objected because Republicans added a provision to exempt American companies from having to disclose payments made to foreign governments.

Exempting American energy companies from having to publicly report payments to Mexico “directly and negatively impacts U.S. efforts to increase transparency and accountability, particularly in the oil, gas and minerals sectors,” according to a White House statement. The disclosure requirements are part of the 2010 Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

“This (exemption) would allow big oil companies to make secret deals with the government of Mexico,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. “Rather than expediting things here, we’re messing them up.”

The White House didn’t threaten a veto of Duncan’s bill, but House Democrats predicted it wouldn’t pass the Senate with the disclosure waiver included.

Duncan, a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee, defended the Dodd-Frank waiver as a way to prevent foreign companies from gaining a competitive advantage.

“These changes will ensure that American energy development will go forward,” Duncan said.

Democrats support a Senate version of the bill that would implement the drilling agreement without waiving financial disclosure requirements.

The agreement, signed in February 2012 by then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and then-Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa, would end the drilling moratorium in the Western Gap portion of the Gulf.

It would allow U.S. companies to collaborate with the Mexican national oil company, PEMEX, to explore and develop the area. And it includes provisions for sharing royalties and a joint commitment to safety and environmental protection, including more rig inspections.

The agreement could be followed by others involving maritime boundaries with Canada, Russia, the Bahamas and Bermuda.