US Democratic Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have introduced a new bill to lift the federal moratorium on natural oil and gas exploration and drilling off the coast of Virginia.

The Virginia Outer Continental Shelf Energy Production Act of 2013, which was introduced by the senators, is similar to legislation recently proposed in the US House by Republican Senator Scott Rigell of Virginia.

The ban, which will last through to 2017, was established by President Barack Obama’s administration in the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Both senators have recommended lifting the ban in order to update old maps of Virginia’s offshore energy resources and announce leases for offshore gas and oil drilling in 2020.

Senator Warner was quoted by the Daily Press as saying: "Our legislation includes appropriate environmental protections and an equitable formula for sharing revenues between the state and federal governments."

"I believe that changes in the membership of the Senate after the 2012 elections have helped to produce a potentially more supportive atmosphere for our legislation," Warner added.

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Senator Kaine noted that if the ban on offshore drilling is lifted, the state will have the opportunity to become a leader in offshore energy exploration.

"Both senators have recommended lifting the ban in order to update old maps of Virginia’s offshore energy resources."

"Virginia’s diverse energy portfolio is a model for the nation," Kaine added. "This legislation will bolster our energy security, create jobs and direct revenues to Virginia that will support important priorities across the state."

According to Warner, 12.5% of Virginia’s 50% share will be earmarked for environmental conservation efforts, while the remaining 37.5% will be put into the state’s general fund.

The senator also said that it is difficult to put a figure on the amount of money that Virginia will receive, as it is not clear how much natural gas and oil is available for drilling off the coast.

On the other hand, Virginia Sierra Club chapter director Glen Besa said that offshore drilling can "jeopardise" the state’s tourism and fishing industries.

"As we saw with the Gulf oil disaster, oil spills decimate tourism and fishing industries. In Virginia, that means risking over $2.5bn and over 100,000 jobs in industries that depend on healthy ocean and Chesapeake Bay waters and clean beaches," Besa added.

Image: US Senate member from Virginia, Mark Warner. Photo courtesy of United States Senate.