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What's in the House offshore-drilling bill?

The House of Representatives approved a bill Tuesday night that would relax the federal ban on offshore drilling and try to expand renewable energy. Here's a breakdown.

By Blogger for The Christian Science Monitor / September 17, 2008

An offshore drilling rig is visible in the background as beachgoers attend the US Open of Surfing, July 20, 2008, in Huntington Beach, Calif.

AP Photo/Ric Francis

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The House of Representatives approved a bill Tuesday night that would relax the federal ban on offshore drilling and try to expand renewable energy.

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The bill, which was adopted by a vote of 236 to 189, was backed by Democrats, who long fought the lifting of the 26-year ban but have been under intense political pressure to look as though they are taking steps to ease high gas prices. Republicans, whose vociferous calls for expanded offshore drilling have been met with widespread public approval, opposed the bill, claiming that it did not offer enough financial incentives to coastal states. On the final roll call, 221 Democrats and 15 Republicans voted for the bill; 176 Republicans and 13 Democrats voted against it.

The 290-page Comprehensive American Energy Security and Consumer Protection Act, as the bill is known, contains a number of important provisions. Here's a breakdown:

Allows drilling between 50 and 100 miles from a state's coastline, if the state approves it. Areas beyond 100 miles from the coast would be completely open to drilling. This map, taken from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's website shows what it would look like.

According to the Associated Press, Republicans opposing the bill cite data from the Interior Department that estimate that 88 percent of the recoverable oil lies within the closed 50-mile zone. Republicans also argue that there is little incentive for states to permit drilling off their shores. They want a revenue-sharing plan, such as that enjoyed by Louisiana. Democrats counter that such a plan would be too expensive.

House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio, whose competing bill would technically allow drilling as close as three miles from the shore (where state jurisdiction ends and federal waters begin) believes that this bill would not result in any significant offshore drilling. "It's a hoax on the American people," he said.

If nothing is done, the offshore-drilling ban will expire Sept. 30.

• Sell 70 million barrels of light crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and replace it with less-valuable heavy crude. The swap, which amounts to 10 percent of the total reserve, seeks to provide immediate relief to gas prices. It would be the first time that heavy crude, which is more difficult to refine into gasoline, would be put in the SPR. This provision is based on HR 6578, the Consumer Energy Supply Act, which failed to pass in the House in July.

Allow oil shale development in Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado, if they approve. Environmentalists have long opposed development of oil shale, a sedimentary rock from which fossil fuels can be extracted, because it is far more CO2-intensive than conventional oil and gas and mining it can cause air and groundwater pollution. Oil shale development is currently banned, but this ban is also set to expire Sept. 30.

• Require oil companies to "diligently develop" federal lands for which they already hold leases. Oil companies have leased 68 million acres of federal lands, but many of these leases are not being tapped. This bill would require oil companies to use it or lose it.

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