Top Democrat may back new offshore drilling: report

An offshore oil platform is seen in the Gulf of Mexico in a file photo. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A top U.S. Democratic senator said in a newspaper interview published Wednesday that he would consider supporting opening up new areas for offshore oil and gas drilling.

“I’m open to drilling and responsible production,” Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin told The Wall Street Journal, adding that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could also support the move.

However, Durbin said his support for opening new areas to drilling was contingent on setting requirements that oil and gas companies begin production within a specified time frame on acreage they have leased from the government.

The spike in oil prices to record highs above $145 per barrel has prompted calls for the U.S. government to allow energy producers to explore for oil and gas off the East and West Coasts and in the eastern region of the Gulf of Mexico. Those areas are currently off limits to exploration.

Republicans say their efforts to open up new regions for exploration have been stymied by Democrats.

Democrats say energy companies are producing oil and gas from only about a quarter of the 91.5 million acres currently leased from the government.

Reporting by Matt Daily; editing by John Wallace