- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2008

House Republicans on Thursday defeated a Democratic bill that would have forced oil companies to increase drilling on accessible lands, saying the measure was a political stunt that would have failed to increase the nation’s oil supply.

The bill required companies to surrender oil and gas leases on federal land they’re not drilling on, and prohibited these companies from acquiring new leases.

Opponents of the measure said it was unfair to slap another layer of bureaucracy on the oil industry, adding it often takes years to research and develop land for oil.

But Democrats have accused the oil industry of “warehousing” 68 million acres of land they already hold leases in the Western United States and western Gulf of Mexico so as to keep the domestic oil supply lower and prices higher.

The bill “tells the oil companies; ‘Drill on the leases you have, or let somebody else do it - but don’t just sit on them while Americans are paying $4 a gallon’” for gasoline, said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

The House voted 244-173 in favor of the Drill Responsibly in Leased Lands (DRILL) Act - more than 30 votes shy of the two-thirds needed to pass. Only 11 Democrats joined 162 Republicans in voting against the measure. Twenty-six Republicans and 218 Democrats voted yes.

Democratic leadership included the bill on the “suspension of rules” calendar, which allows bills to avoid facing amendments under an expedited process but at the price of the two-thirds requirement.

House Republicans last month blocked a Democratic attempt to pass a similar measure.

“Democratic leaders didn’t bring this bill to the floor with any illusions of passing it,” said Minority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican. “Rather, what we saw today was choreographed attempt to make it appear as if they’re doing something to bring down the price of gas, when in reality the situation is quite the opposite.”

The measure also called for the Interior Department to conduct yearly oil industry leases in the National Petroleum Reserve (NPR) in Alaska, a 23-million-acre area just west of the disputed Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Democrats say the NPR, which is estimated to contain 10.6 billion barrels of oil, holds better oil prospects than ANWR, a restricted area that Republicans and the White House long have wanted to develop.