WASHINGTON, July 19 (UPI) -- The U.S. House of Representatives approved a measure that would expand the schedule for proposed offshore oil and gas leases to include the Atlantic Ocean.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said a proposed 5-year lease schedule opened "the vast majority" of offshore oil and natural gas resources for development while taking a "cautious" look at the potential for reserves off the coast of Alaska.
The plan calls for 12 lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and three off the coast of Alaska. The U.S. government estimates more than 67 billion barrels of oil and 306 trillion cubic feet of gas are potentially available in the proposed lease areas.
The House Natural Resources Committee approved a measure that expands the lease plan to include most of U.S. territorial waters, including parts of the mid-Atlantic and the coast of California.
U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the committee, said the White House was "playing politics" with domestic offshore energy policies. The measure, which passed on a 24-17 vote in the Republican-controlled committee, "is an environmentally responsible drill-smart plan that will create jobs, grow our economy, and lower gasoline prices with more American energy," said Hastings.
The U.S. Department of Interior defended the existing lease plan by saying it makes more than 75 percent of recoverable offshore energy resources available for exploration and development.