WASHINGTON, July 26 (UPI) -- The U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure that would open most of the continental shelf to oil and natural gas exploration.
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.
U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said U.S. President Barack Obama's offshore drilling plan, however, blocks development of 85 percent of offshore energy resources, which the bill would reverse.
"America cannot afford President Obama's halfhearted policies and empty rhetoric that take us backwards when it comes to our energy future," he said in a statement.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., the ranking minority member of the committee, said in a statement the "drill-only bill" backed by House Republicans is a gift to the oil industry and does little to support offshore safety measures.
Every Republican member of the House, he added, rejected a proposal in the measure that would have ensured "any company" seeking to access new drilling areas would abide by economic sanctions targeting Iran and Syria.