Drilling For The Future

2018-01-29T14:51:20+00:00 November 13, 2017|
(Credit: Flicker)

(Click to enlarge) (Credit: Flicker)

What It Was

The Strengthening the Economy with Critical Untapped Resources to Expand (SECURE) American Energy Act (H.R. 4239) was discussed in a hearing by the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. The next day, it  was marked up by the full committee, passing along a nearly party line vote (19-14).

Why It Matters

Expanding access to our nation’s energy sources, while sustaining and protecting the offshore physical environment, is of critical importance.

Key Points

The SECURE American Energy Act would encourage energy development – onshore and offshore oil and gas as well as wind – by offering offshore drilling revenue sharing for some coastal states; directing the secretary of interior to include all available offshore tracts in the five-year offshore leasing plan; prohibiting the Department of the Interior from enforcing the December 2016 ban on drilling in most of the Arctic Ocean; eliminating the president’s ability to block areas of the outer continental shelf from oil and gas drilling and the president’s ability to designate marine national monuments; and requiring the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to conduct feasibility studies off the coasts of California, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands for potential wind lease sales.

Additionally, H.R. 4239 would weaken the permitting standards of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA; P.L. 92-522) by forcing strict permitting deadlines (and automatic approval if deadlines are not met), striking language intended to minimize humans’ impact on marine mammals, and exempting compliance with the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA; P.L 100-478) protections for marine mammals. Additionally, it would remove the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) ability to require mitigation and long-term monitoring of impacts of activity.

While H.R. 4239 was introduced with bipartisan cosponsors, votes at the markup mainly fell along party lines. Republicans touted the bill’s ability to strengthen national security and create jobs and repeatedly spoke on its role in streamlining processes (e.g. offshore sales, permitting, timeline to review applications, etc.), eliminating unilateral executive decisions and ensuring open public participation, providing deserved revenue to states, and reducing federal oversight on onshore drilling.

Conversely, Democrats were concerned that environmental laws, such as the MMPA and the ESA, would be undermined and suggested the need to streamline the permitting process and increase lease sales was unnecessary due to high oil production, low gas prices, and the large number of unused land-based drilling permits. They instead advocated for renewable energy alternatives.

During the hearing, Republican subcommittee members had a line of questioning on seismic testing – a seafloor mapping technique using blasts of sound to determine the presence of oil reserves – asking how the process works, if there are alternatives, and the impact on marine mammals. There was disagreement on the effect of seismic sound on marine life, with Mr. Lynn Helms (Director, Department of Mineral Resources, North Dakota Industrial Commission) calling concerns a tactic to reduce “industries’ ability to evaluate the size of the resource” and Representative Darren Soto (FL-9) noting that 100 members of Congress signed a letter indicating their worries about the impacts.

Five amendments were approved, including one to uphold the moratorium on drilling around Florida.  Nine Democratic amendments, including those that would restore the president’s authority on marine monuments and reinstate marine mammal protections, failed along party lines.


“Energy should be a non-partisan issue…We are all concerned about the environment and we want to make sure we are using best available technology, using modern innovation and ingenuity. And we are doing all we can to lower energy prices for families and small businesses.” – Mr. David Holt (President, Consumer Energy Alliance)

“This is an effort to come up with a comprehensive onshore and offshore energy policy that can build on the renaissance we already have with energy and give us some certainty going forward that will actually enhance that new development in traditional as well as non-traditional energy.” – Chairman Ron Bishop (UT-1)

“We have learned to our cost that offshore drilling caries unavoidable risks. Those risks can be managed but they cannot be eliminated…. If we put profits and politics ahead of real needs, as this bill seeks to do, we are failing to meet one of our most basic responsibilities as elected officials.” – Representative A. Donald McEachin (VA-4)

Next Steps

The bill will advance to the House floor.

Find Out More

Watch the full hearing

Watch the full mark up

Witness Testimonies:

  • Ray Brady (Member, Public Lands Foundation)
  • Lynn Helms (Director, Department of Mineral Resources, North Dakota Industrial Commission)
  • David Holt (President, Consumer Energy Alliance)
  • Eric Smith (Professor of Practice & Associate Director, Tulane Energy Institute, A. B. Freeman School of Business)

Related coverage from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership

Want to read more stories like this one? This ran in COL’s weekly newsletter, Ocean News Weekly: Week of November 13, 2017 – Number 390. Read this newsletter in full here, and sign up to receive it in your inbox here.