New law would ban BP from new offshore drilling in U.S.

In a 27-21 vote, the House Natural Resources Committee has approved new legislation that would effectively ban BP from future offshore drilling leases in the United States and its territories. The bill, which also strengthens offshore drilling safety standards, now makes its way to the full House for a vote.

“While the incident in the Gulf does not signal the end of drilling off America’s coasts, it certainly is a game changer and is proof positive that broad reforms are needed,” Representative Nick Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat and the panel’s chairman, said in a statement.

Oil companies with a history of violating federal and state safety regulations will be barred from U.S. offshore drilling under the bill. Violators would have to show a record of breaking and ignoring the rules more than five times the industry average over a seven-year period before being banned.

The bill would also ban new leases to oil companies that have received $10 million or more in fines for Clean Water Act violations. Companies that have had more than 10 fatalities over the seven-year period would also be banned.

BP is the only oil company that meets the criteria of the new legislation. The law would not affect BP’s current leases and operations, and the company would still be allowed to participate in future drilling as a minority partner on future leases.

Before BP’s Deepwater Horizon operations exploded in the Gulf of Mexico killing 11 workers, a 2005 explosion at the company’s Texas City refinery killed 15 workers. The following year, a BP pipeline leak dumped 200,000 gallons of crude oil into Prudhoe Bay, Alaska – a remote Arctic location where oil cleanup and containment is close to impossible.

The committee also adopted an amendment that encourages geothermal energy production on federal lands. Geothermal energy, obtained by extracting heat from the ground, is a significant source of power for many countries with land affected by volcanic and tectonic activity.

The new measure would also require companies to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, a drilling process that involves mixing millions of gallons of water with chemicals and injecting it underground to break layers of rock.