A oil rig platform is seen in the Gulf of...

A oil rig platform is seen in the Gulf of Mexico. (Aug. 19, 2008) Credit: AP File

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama's pledge to expand offshore oil and natural-gas drilling may help Democrats deliver legislation that regulates carbon dioxide emissions before any fuel is produced.

The president wants to permit exploration in parts of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean not previously offered to companies such as Exxon Mobil, the largest U.S. energy producer. Obama's offer Wednesday doesn't guarantee access to the new areas and needs support from Congress and the states, said Tom Moskitis, a spokesman for the American Gas Association, a Washington-based trade group.

Obama had highlighted offshore drilling as a prospect for compromise with Republicans on energy and climate legislation Jan. 27 in his State of the Union address. Now, the administration's proposal may bring additional lawmakers on board as efforts are made in the Senate to craft a new version on the stalled measure.

"The cynical view is that this is an attempt to buy a few more votes for a bill that would introduce carbon regulation," Moskitis said Wednesday. "I don't know if I would go that far, but today's announcement does not guarantee that oil and gas leasing will indeed take place in the new frontier areas on the outer continental shelf."

The Obama proposal would allow drilling 50 miles off the Virginia coast in what would be the first Atlantic oil and gas sale in more than two decades, and reduce a buffer zone off Florida's west coast from 235 miles to 125 miles. It would cancel future lease sales for Alaska's Bristol Bay and delay work in other Alaska waters for further study.

Obama's plan could be reshaped as Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) seek to craft climate legislation after a House-passed approach stalled, said Kevin Book, a Washington-based managing director for Clearview Energy Partners. The compromise, which Kerry said could be introduced the week of April 22, may give states more say over offshore drilling.

Latest videos