A top House Democrat on Tuesday said his party will not push to reinstate a ban on offshore oil and natural gas drilling next year.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said there will be serious discussion as to the “parameters” to which offshore drilling will be allowed, but Democrats will not try to back track after grudgingly giving in to Republican demands to allow the 26-year-ban to expire this fall.
“I don’t think there is any intent at this point in time … to return to the same position we where in” before the ban was lifted, Mr. Hoyer told a gathering of reporters Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington.
The congressional drilling moratorium was first enacted in 1982 and had been renewed annually until Democrats decided in late September not to seek another extension. Democrats at the time said they work with the new White House administration to reinstate the ban soon after the new Congress convened in January.
Republicans had pushed for the ban to be lifted, saying it was needed to help wean the country off its dependency on foreign oil. Democrats long had been opposed the idea, saying oil companies already have millions available drilling acres on land they’re not using.
But when gasoline prices skyrocketed to more than $4 a gallon this summer and public opinion favored increased domestic drilling, Democrats had little political stomach to extend the ban another year.
The lifting of the ban allows oil and gas leasing on most of the outer continental shelf — three miles to 200 miles offshore — and expanded oil shale development in the West - areas that had been off limits.
Gasoline prices have been cut nearly in half since the ban was lifted.
Mr. Hoyer also said he wouldn’t recommend that President-elect Barack Obama give a “Kennedyesque” declaration for the U.S. to stop importing foreign oil in 10 or 15 years.
“I don’t think he ought to make that definitive statement because I’m not sure if that’s possible,” he said. “What is possible, however, is to very substantially reduce our reliance on petroleum products, which will ultimately … perhaps disappear.”