House passes offshore drilling bill

The US House of Representatives voted 229-185 on Thursday in favour of a bill that would press the Department of Interior and the Obama administration to open up more acreage for drilling offshore the US west and east coasts and off Alaska.

Most expect the legislation to die in the Senate, where it is headed next.

The bill, HR 4899, sponsored by Washington state representative and Republican Doc Hastings - who also chairs the House Natural Resources Committee - seeks to push down gasoline prices by boosting domestic oil and gas production even further by granting easier access to federal lands onshore and offshore.

It also proposes to force Interior to makes leasing available off Virginia, South Carolina, and California near Santa Barbara. Yearly lease sales would also be required in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve.

In addition, the bill would require the new five-year leasing plan to start in 2015. Interior is already beginning studies for the currently scheduled five-year programme beginning in 2017.

"The current turmoil in Iraq has already caused the price of gasoline to increase, and it serves as an important reminder of why we need to increase production here at home," Hastings said. "The best way to protect ourselves from price spikes caused by international conflicts is to increase the production of American energy resources."

However, the bill is not expected to get past the Democratic-controlled Senate. Oregon representative Peter DeFazio, the ranking Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, derided the repeated attempts to pass a bill that most in Congress expect to fail in its current form.

"We now have a new tradition here, which is Groundhog Day in June for energy bills, in a faux sort of attempt to pretend we really care about the extortionate prices that people are paying because of Big Oil in the United States and speculation on Wall Street," DeFazio said.

Oil and gas operators represented by National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi applauded the bill.

"Opening up more of our Outer Continental Shelf to energy exploration and development will create thousands of new American jobs and billions of dollars in state and Federal revenues, all while decreasing our dependence on foreign oil and increasing our domestic energy security," Luthi said.

"The Senate should take up and pass this important bill and give the president the opportunity to support a broad based 'all of the above' energy policy that continues the trend away from reliance on foreign imports and towards more jobs, energy and economic security."

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