Senate Natural Gas Exploration Bill Gets Passes with Bipartisan Support

The House and Senate bills will now need to be reconciled in a conference committee.

Tuesday the Senate passed the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which would allow expanded natural gas production in the outer continental shelf, by a vote of 71 to 25.

Currently, much of the potential gas production off the U.S. coast is subject to a federal ban on drilling. National Corn Growers Association President Gerald Tumbleson says the bill is a significant step forward in providing more domestically produced energy sources to combat ongoing energy crisis. "This bill will also aid producers, who rely heavily on natural gas and fertilizers to operate their farms, and other consumers who are feeling the energy crunch. We could see more than 1.26 billion barrels of crude oil and 5.83 trillion cubic feet of natural gas coming from the outer continental shelf. That's a significant resource," he adds.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M, sponsored the bill with 14 cosponsors: Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., David Vitter, R-La., Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Mel Martinez, R-Fla., Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Trent Lott, R-Miss., Richard Shelby, R-Ala., Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., John Cornyn, R-Texas, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas, Jim Talent, R-Mo. and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

The bill directs the Secretary of the Interior to lease the area within one year of the date of enactment. Under this legislation, revenue from 37.5% of leasing and royalty revenues will be directed to Gulf states for coastal restoration. The bill also bans drilling until 2022 within 125 miles of the Florida Panhandle and within 230 miles of the state's west coast.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who voted against the bill says the percentage of royalties given to the four coastal states is a "sweetheart deal for a few states but it hurts the rest of the country. As President Truman said, 'minerals off America's coast belong to the federal government - that is all the people in this country.' But not under this bill and that is a bad precedent to set."

The House passed its version of the OCS bill, H.R. 4761, which replaces existing moratoriums on most offshore drilling with a ban on drilling out to 50 miles. It also allows states to extend that protection to 100 miles or pursue drilling closer to shore if they choose. It also directs a portion of the proceeds from current and future leases to coastal states.

Harkin criticized procedural moves that prevented him from offering amendments he had prepared that would have increased renewable fuels production and availability of those fuels.

The House and Senate bills will now need to be reconciled in a conference committee.

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