House advocates of natural gas drilling plan to introduce legislation soon that would remove the congressional ban on gas exploration and drilling in much of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

Reps. John Peterson (R-PA) and Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) said the bill would provide states the right to drill for natural gas off their coasts, while directing royalties to producing states, various environmental restoration projects across the county, the Low-Income Heating Energy Assistance Program, weatherization programs and research and development for alternative and renewable energy. Peterson spokesman Travis Windle said the measure will be introduced "either next week or the following week."

This is the second time that Peterson will try to push through Congress legislation favorable to offshore energy drilling. Last year the House approved a bill to open historically closed portions of the federal OCS to oil and gas drilling, but it never made it through the Senate. The Senate instead passed legislation to open more of the Gulf of Mexico to leasing.

But this proposed legislation is different, Windle said. "It's a natural gas-only bill. We have great hopes for it. We are building a big coalition" to support its passage, he noted.

Nevertheless, Peterson and Abercrombie will face a tough time selling their legislation in a Democratic Congress, which has placed oil and gas issues on the back burner this year.

The new bill is expected to incorporate some provisions of last year's House bill. It would give states complete control over whether to allow natural gas leasing within 100 miles of their shorelines, while lifting the moratorium on all drilling beyond the 100-mile mark. The bill also would require states to get the approval of their legislatures, governors and neighboring states to begin leasing. And it would give states that allow production a bigger share of offshore royalties.

Without passage of the Peterson-Abercrombie bill, manufacturers "simply [will] move offshore where gas is much cheaper," Peterson wrote in The Hill Blog Tuesday. "The U.S. was once the leader of the pack. But now, in the global economy in which we compete, if the current bans on developing deep sea American energy aren't lifted, we'll be just another dog in the pack."

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