[JURIST] The US Senate voted Saturday to approve spending legislation [H.R. 2638 text, PDF] approving the expiration of a Congressional moratorium on offshore oil drilling [JURIST news archive]. The spending bill, known as the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act, was approved in the Senate by a vote of 78-12 [roll call vote]. The moratorium, first enacted in 1982 as the Outer Continental Shelf Moratorium, denied the US Department of the Interior [official website] the funds to pursue oil and natural gas exploration off of the US Pacific and Atlantic coasts. The expiration of the moratorium via the Senate vote follows a House of Representatives vote two weeks ago passing a comprehensive energy bill [H.R. 6899, PDF] that would partially lift the offshore oil drilling ban [JURIST report]. The House bill would authorize drilling activities 50 miles beyond the Pacific or Atlantic coastlines, part of the 85 percent of US coastal waters which have been off-limits for drilling since 1981. The Washington Post has more.
In July, President George W. Bush lifted an executive ban on offshore oil drilling [JURIST report] put in place during his father's presidential administration. In June, Bush called on Congress to relax restrictions on oil exploration [statement text; JURIST report], saying that it should also allow drilling to begin in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge [official website] in Alaska. Bush argued that resources currently off-limits to energy companies could offset rising fuel prices. Environmental organizations have criticized efforts to expand oil drilling [WWF report] in the Arctic, calling for increased research into energy conservation and renewable resources instead. Critics have also said that offshore development will require several years and a massive infrastructure that could impact local wildlife.