WASHINGTON - US lawmakers Tuesday sought to overturn a
decades-old ban on offshore drilling voting in favor of a new energy
bill which has been spurred by spiralling oil prices.
The new bill, which was put forward by the majority Democrats in the House of Representatives, was approved by 236 votes to 189.
would allow drilling off the US coastline up to a distance of between
50 to 100 miles (80 to 160 kilometers) overturning a 1981 federal
Under the ban, states had been prohibited from
allowing offshore oil and gas drilling and exploration, protecting
virtually the entire Atlantic and Pacific coastlines and sections of
the Gulf of Mexico.
As global fuel prices rocketed earlier this
year, US President George W. Bush had lifted the drilling ban in July,
urging lawmakers to swing behind him in the country's search for energy
The bill is now due to go before the Senate,
probably by next week. But it will have to win the support of at least
60 out of the 100 senators in order to be passed, which is unlikely
given the lack of Republican support.
The bill says it aims: "To
advance the national security interests of the United States by
reducing its dependency on oil through renewable and clean, alternative
It hopes to build "a bridge to the future
through expanded access to federal oil and natural gas resources,
revising the relationship between the oil and gas industry and the
consumers who own those resources."
But it triggered a lively
debate in the House with Republicans criticizing the bill for failing
to support moves to develop nuclear energy.
"Nobody's read the bill," said House minority Republican leader, John Boehner.
guess what? The Republican members who represent about 48 percent of
the American people, we're not allowed to offer a substitute.
"We have no opportunity to offer our American energy plan that we've been on this floor talking about for three months nonstop."
The offshore drilling plan has become a hotly contested issue on the campaign trail in the 2008 White House race.
falling demand and turmoil in the financial markets, oil prices on
Tuesday tumbled to around 90 dollars a barrel, a seven-month low, after
they reached historic highs earlier this year of around 145 dollars a
But experts say any new drilling will only start to impact on gas prices in 10 to 15 years.
critics argue that lifting the drilling moratorium would jeopardize the
environment and that production would take years to get up and running,
and thus is not a realistic answer to the current crisis.