Offshore Oil Survey Approved by U.S. Senate

Approval for a major study of offshore oil and gas reserves in federal waters was passed in the U.S. Senate as part of an energy bill aimed at reducing America's dependence on foreign oil. Opponents argued that creating the inventory lays the groundwork for overturning the federal ban on oil drilling in most parts of the outer continental shelf, including waters off the California coast. But a measure to strip the inventory from the energy bill was defeated Thursday on a 44-54 vote.

"This is a slap in the face to the people of California, who have already expressed their strong and unwavering support for the protection of our oceans and coastlines," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., after the vote. Environmentalists strongly oppose the new inventory, saying the testing equipment used by the government could harm whales, fish and other marine life.

The Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton, says that there are no plans to overturn the federal ban on drilling, which is currently in place until 2012 and applies to federal waters on the West and East coasts, the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico and some areas off the coast of Alaska.

Supporters of the inventory say it is crucial to determine exactly where and how much oil exists in the outer continental shelf. And, they say this study does not authorize any type of drilling.

The House stripped a similar measure from its version of the energy bill passed in April. The Senate's passage means it's more likely to emerge in a final version of the huge energy bill negotiated in a conference committee later this year.