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Planet Ark World Environment News Senate Blocks Move To Open Up Offshore Drilling

Date: 20-May-11
Country: USA
Author: Timothy Gardner

Senate Blocks Move To Open Up Offshore Drilling Photo: Reuters/Lee Celano
Unused oil rigs sit in the Gulf of Mexico near Port Fourchon, Louisiana August 11, 2010.
Photo: Reuters/Lee Celano

The Senate blocked a move by Republicans to speed domestic offshore oil and natural gas drilling on Wednesday, a fresh sign of congressional gridlock on energy issues even as drivers endure gasoline prices near $4 a gallon.

Republicans only got 42 of the 60 votes needed to consider a bill, known as the Offshore Production and Safety Act, that would have directed the Interior Department to conduct previously scheduled offshore lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico, Virginia, and Alaska.

The bill, introduced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, also would have extended lease terms by one year in the Gulf which the Obama administration suspended last year after the BP oil spill.

It did not get approval from some Democrats in energy producing states who Republicans had hoped to get, such as Mary Landrieu from Louisiana.

The bill was a response by Senate Republicans to high gasoline prices, but also to a Democratic effort that failed on Tuesday to repeal billions of dollars in tax breaks for the top five oil companies operating in the United States.

Ahead of presidential and congressional elections next year, calls by politicians to do something about high gasoline prices have become louder, but analysts said there is little they can do to push prices lower in the short-term.

McConnell said the Democratic bill would have done three things: "Destroy jobs, send American jobs overseas, make us more dependent on foreign sources of oil."

Democrats have already painted Republicans who voted to block the oil tax break effort as standing with the top five energy companies while their profits hit $36 billion in the first quarter of the year.

Republicans hope to cast Democrats who opposed their bill opening up leases as against increasing production of domestic oil. But President Barack Obama, aiming to quiet some of those arguments, has pushed his Department of the Interior to expand drilling in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.

McConnell's bill was similar to several bills that passed recently in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Environmentalists praised the vote in the Senate. "After only a year since the BP Oil Disaster ... now is not the time for 'Drill, Baby, Drill,'" said Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club.

(Editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)

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