Washington The Senate voted Tuesday to open 8.3 million acres of federal waters in the central Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling, setting up a confrontation with the House, which wants even more drilling in waters now off-limits.
Supporters said the measure would be a major step toward producing more domestic energy and forcing down natural gas prices that have soared in recent years.
The Senate approved the measure by a vote of 71-25. It now must be reconciled with much broader drilling legislation passed by the House in June. Those negotiations are likely to begin in September.
Some critics noted that it will be years before any oil or gas will be taken from the 8.3 million acres and that the legislation falls short of addressing many of the country's energy problems.
At best "this will supply a small amount of gas years from now," said Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., who decried the inability to broaden the legislation beyond drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.