The House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow U.S. companies to begin exploration for oil and natural gas in areas on the outer continental shelf of the United States where drilling is now prohibited.

The bill, the Deep Ocean Energy Resources or DOER Act of 2006, was approved by a vote of 232 to 187. It faces an uncertain future in the Senate where cloture rules could make it easier for conservation-minded senators to keep it bottled up on the Senate floor.

“Today (June 29) marks a historic day for the House of Representatives and the United States,” said House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif. “Never before have we accomplished so much for American jobs and energy security in single, stand-alone bill.”

Pombo said the bill will “finally correct the one-size-fits-all bans that were enacted during times when energy production and environmental protection were thought to be mutually exclusive. They are not, and today a bipartisan majority in the House voted for both.”

Two Louisiana Congressmen — Bobby Jindal, a Republican, and Charlie Melancon, a Democrat; along with Reps. John Peterson, R-Pa.; and Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, helped craft the bill.

“My bill provides incentives for more domestic production, allows states to have more control over energy activity off their coasts and encourages production from new energy sources,” said Jindal.

The bill will reduce energy costs and help the country to begin to reduce its dependence on foreign sources, Jindal noted. It will also allow states like Louisiana to have a greater share in the benefits from energy production in the Gulf region where much of the nation's offshore drilling now occurs.

“Louisiana's coastlines have borne the brunt of the consequences of energy exploration for decades, and this legislation will help restore our coastlines for generations to come,” he said. “The overwhelming support for my bill today sends a strong message to the Senate that now is the time for reform of how we distribute our nation's energy royalties.”

“I applaud the U.S. House of Representatives for passing the DOER Act, and I encourage the Senate to also recognize the importance of this legislation and vote for passage,” said Melancon. “In Louisiana, this bill will ensure that for the first time since drilling began off our coasts 50 years ago, we will receive a fair share of the royalties this industry generates for the federal treasury.”

Louisiana's General Assembly has passed a constitutional amendment that would require the state to dedicate the new revenue to building a comprehensive hurricane protection and coastal restoration system that will protect a vulnerable population of more than 1 million people.

The legislation was also applauded by the 105 members of the Agriculture Energy Alliance, an umbrella organization for groups that support increased oil and natural gas exploration in the United States. AEA members include the American Farm Bureau Federation and most of the nation's commodity organizations.

In a press release, the Alliance said the legislation will significantly improve natural gas supplies in the United States and urged the Senate to pass it quickly. “Throughout debate on energy policy, the AEA has consistently encouraged Congress to pass legislation that would allow expanded natural gas production in the Outer Continental Shelf.

“Additional supplies of American energy resources are important to maintaining a competitive agricultural sector,” it said. “AEA supports legislation that will provide an enhanced role for development of offshore energy resources leading to a more diverse portfolio and additional supplies of natural gas.”