Cochran and Wicker Cosponsor Bill to Extend Life of Gulf of Mexico Offshore Energy Leases

Measure Would Offer 12-Month Extension on Leases Affected by BP Oil Spill

March 9, 2011

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) today cosponsored legislation to extend the life of leases for offshore oil and gas exploration that have been left in limbo since the Obama administration issued a moratorium on offshore energy activities last spring.

The Lease Extension and Energy Security (LEASE) Act would offer 12-month extensions to existing offshore exploratory leases idled by the drilling moratorium imposed by the U.S. Department of the Interior following the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout last April.  Since then, thousands of leaseholders in the Gulf of Mexico have been unable to carry out any exploratory activities on leases purchased from the federal government.

“Escalating gasoline prices are pinching family budgets and prompting new questions about our nation’s ability to tap its own energy resources,” Cochran said.  “This bill represents basic fairness for those companies that venture offshore to tap American-owned oil and gas reserves. The oil spill disrupted lease activities, as have the continued delays by the Interior Department to restart the permitting process for offshore energy production. This legislation would give offshore leaseholders an incentive not to abandon those holdings.”

“Attempts by the Administration to stall energy production in the Gulf of Mexico are short-sighted and harmful,” said Wicker.  “Rising gas prices should serve as a call to action to reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources.  To accomplish this, we should make sure American producers are not penalized.  Leaseholders continued to pay rent during this suspension, so extending the leases for the same period is fair.”

The LEASE Act would serve to restore 12 months of lost lease time for domestic energy producers, allowing them to proceed without the threat of their leases expiring.  This would give these firms a greater measure of certainty needed to plan financing for shallow and deep water exploration activities.

At the time of the BP oil spill, 33 leaseholders were conducting exploration drilling in U.S. waters, while thousands of others were in early exploration stages.  When it imposed its offshore moratorium last May, the Interior Department did not use its authority to issue a temporary “suspension of operations” order on active leases.  That order would have allowed some offshore lease activities while the overall drilling moratorium was in place.

The LEASE Act was authored by U.S. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.).  The measure will be referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.