WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With demand for natural gas increasing and production levels not keeping pace, the National Corn Growers Association applauds Senate passage yesterday of the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, S. 3711.

The act would allow expanded natural gas production in the outer continental shelf (OCS). Currently, much of the potential gas production off the U.S. coast is subject to a federal ban on drilling. The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 71 to 25.

"The strong bipartisan support and passage of this bill is a significant step forward in providing more domestically produced energy sources to combat this nation's ongoing energy crisis," said NCGA President Gerald Tumbleson. "This bill will also aid producers, who rely heavily on natural gas and fertilizers to operate their farms, and other consumers who are feeling the energy crunch. We could see more than 1.26 billion barrels of crude oil and 5.83 trillion cubic feet of natural gas coming from the outer continental shelf. That's a significant resource."

The bill directs the Secretary of the Interior to lease the area within one year of the date of enactment. Thirty-seven-and-one-half percent of leasing and royalty revenues will be directed to Gulf states for coastal restoration. The bill also bans drilling until 2022 within 125 miles of the Florida Panhandle and within 230 miles of the state's west coast.

NCGA and other agriculture groups have strongly supported legislation that would increase exploration, development and production of oil and natural gas in the OCS.

"It is imperative that adequate domestic supplies of natural gas be developed for the future prosperity of American farmers," Tumbleson said.

The House passed its version of the OCS bill, H.R. 4761, which replaces existing moratoriums on most offshore drilling with a ban on drilling out to 50 miles. It also allows states to extend that protection to 100 miles or pursue drilling closer to shore if they choose. It also directs a portion of the proceeds from current and future leases to coastal states.

The House and Senate bills will now need to be reconciled in a conference committee.

SOURCE: NCGA news release.