What It Was
Why It Matters
Drilling for oil in the ocean has an impact on our economy and environment. Outer continental shelf (OCS) drilling has been banned in certain areas for several reasons, including disruption to tourism, threats to ecosystems and species, noise pollution, and risk of oil spills. Determining where OCS lease sales can occur involves rigorous assessment. This bill would open all areas of the ocean to drilling, eliminate the president’s ability to designate marine national monuments, and give OCS lease sales authority to the secretary of interior instead of relying solely on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) five-year plan.
Views on the ASTRO Act were split along party lines with three main points of contention – drilling in areas currently prohibited, giving power to the secretary of interior, and combining regulatory agencies.
Only two areas of U.S. waters are currently open for sale under the BOEM’s five-year plan: the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. This bill would put the Atlantic and California coastlines on the table, which state Senator Stephen Goldfinch (SC) agreed with, citing the economic benefits for his constituents. However, Democrats were concerned OCS drilling would threaten tourism, especially if a spill occurred.
Possibly the biggest contention was the discretion the proposed bill would give to the secretary of interior, who would be able to authorize sales in areas not previously outlined in the five-year assessment plan, making nearly all coastlines available. “This draft legislation would put our coasts at much higher risk,” declared Ranking Member Alan Lowenthal (CA-47). Conversely, Republicans advised this allows the U.S. to capitalize on sales when they arise and provides an economic boom for many coastal areas.
Offshore drilling is regulated by two agencies, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and BOEM, to ensure safety and financial sales, respectively. After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BOEM and BSEE were created to reduce conflict between the missions of safety and revenue found in their single predecessor, the Mineral Management Service, but the ASTRO Act would make reuniting those entities a possibility. Supporters argued this could save money and streamline the oil and gas leasing and permitting process, while opponents feared this would increase safety risks.
There was general agreement on the idea of revenue sharing. In areas where offshore drilling would occur, part of the money would be allocated to the states. Most committee members of both parties viewed this as justified given the profits gained by states from onshore drilling, but some saw the inclusion of Atlantic states as a “bribe” to gain support for OCS drilling.
Additionally, the bill would suspend the president’s ability to designate marine national monuments, where drilling is prohibited, but this was not discussed in depth during the hearing.
“This bill attempts to restore access and to provide a more practical and functional path to development for all stakeholders.” – Subcommittee Chairman Paul Gosar (AZ-4)
“This bill is an industry handout in a bad disguise. Repeating the mistakes that gave us the Deepwater Horizon explosion, especially in the name of deregulation, would be a dereliction of our congressional duty.” – Committee Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva (AZ-3)
“Natural gas and oil exploration in the Atlantic could be an opportunity for our state to see much-needed additional economic improvements, investment, and job creation.” – State Senator Stephen Goldfinch (South Carolina)
“[The secretary of interior’s power to conduct sales] sounds like the big government overreach the majority often decries.” – Representative Anthony Brown (MD-4)
“[Merging BOEM and BSEE] is a dangerous idea that would significantly raise the risk of a catastrophic offshore accident.” – Mr. Michael Bromwich (Founder and Managing Principal, The Bromwich Group)
This is a draft bill that has yet to be introduced. The information gathered during this hearing will likely be used to finalize bill language.
Find Out More
- The Honorable Mary Landrieu (Former Louisiana Senator; Senior Policy Advisor, Van Ness Feldman, LLP)
- The Honorable Stephen Goldfinch (State Senator, South Carolina)
- Erik Milito (Director, Upstream and Industry Operations, American Petroleum Institute)
- Michael Bromwich (Founder and Managing Principal, The Bromwich Group)
Related coverage from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership