Offshore Drilling: U.S. House Panel Approves Natural Gas Exploration

The House Appropriations Committee today voted to strip a longstanding congressional prohibition against offshore natural gas exploration.

By a 37-25 vote, the panel approved the amendment from Rep. John Peterson (R-Pa.) that would eliminate the ban in the fiscal 2007 Interior and Environment spending bill.

The offshore bans covering both coasts and the eastern Gulf of Mexico have been renewed annually since 1982 through the Interior appropriations bill. But amid elevated natural gas prices and other energy concerns, lawmakers are under growing pressure in this Congress to allow wider offshore leasing.

"This moratorium has been in place for more than two decades and for many years it really didn't matter," Peterson said, but high natural gas prices makes removing the language necessary. "Natural gas is the mother's milk of industry left in our country."

Peterson's language would leave the bans on oil in place.

Opponents questioned the feasibility of companies drilling for natural gas while not drilling for oil and the affect of lifting the ban in military training areas.

"Do you really want to cast a very important environmental vote for such a questionable result?" asked Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.).

Critics of Peterson's effort, including ranking member David Obey (D-Wis.), also said the natural gas supply issue should be addressed via comprehensive energy legislation.

"This doesn't lend itself to a quick fix in the Appropriations Committee," said Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.).

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