WASHINGTON — Congress sent mixed messages to the oil and gas industry Tuesday as a Senate committee voted to expand exploration in the Gulf of Mexico while a group of lawmakers introduced a bill to regulate a commonly used drilling procedure. The industry hailed the 13-10 vote in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee to open more of the eastern Gulf of Mexico to drilling, including an area called the Destin Dome that is just 24 miles off the coast of Florida. "In the eastern Gulf, we’re talking about an area with trillions of cubic feet of American gas, and potentially billions of barrels of American oil,” said Barry Russell, chairman and CEO of the Independent Petroleum Association of America. "And the best part is: Every bit of it resides in areas in proximity to existing pipelines and needed infrastructure.” The vote came on a broad energy bill that also includes sections on alternative sources. It’s not clear when the full Senate will take it up, but the provision will likely face opposition from Florida senators and others concerned about drilling so close to tourist spots. Meanwhile, one senator and three House members introduced legislation that would give the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing, a routine part of drilling for decades in which water and chemicals are injected at high pressures to create fractures and increase the flow of oil.
Water safetyThe bill introduced Tuesday would require companies to disclose the chemicals used in the process and allow the EPA to ensure compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, said hydraulic fracturing had been used in an estimated 1 million wells and had not posed any problems to drinking water. Boren said the regulation called for in the bill would be "disastrous for the industry,” but predicted that it wouldn’t advance in Congress.