Groups press drilling bill

Business groups have stepped up their lobbying efforts in support of a bill that could lead to more offshore oil and gas development.

The bill, which faces a cloture vote today in the Senate, is more limited than a House measure already passed. It would only expand offshore drilling to an area in the eastern Gulf of Mexico known as Lease 181.

The House version, by contrast, gives states more authority to determine whether to allow drilling off their coasts. Drilling moratoriums are now in place for most offshore areas.

Drilling critics worry that conferees will use the opportunity presented in conference to broaden the Senate measure as well. But business groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Chemistry Council, which represent companies stung by high prices for natural gas, have been out in force on Capitol Hill urging yes votes.

Both groups told senators the bill represents a key vote that would be recorded on voting scorecards distributed to their members.