US President George Bush has lifted an executive order banning oil and natural gas drilling in most US coastal waters. He also urged the US Congress to end its own drilling ban.

The executive drilling ban was issued in 1990 by the first President Bush, and then extended by President Bill Clinton.

Congressional Democratic leaders oppose ending the drilling ban, saying oil companies already have 68 million acres under government leases they can drill and any new oil from now-closed offshore areas would not be available for five to 10 years.

States are prohibited from allowing offshore oil and gas drilling and exploration, protecting virtually the entire Atlantic and Pacific coastlines and sections of  the Gulf of Mexico.

Critics of lifting the drilling moratorium say it would  jeopardise the environment and that production would take years to get up and running, and thus is not a realistic answer to the  current supply crunch.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has already said he wants no drilling off his state's lengthy portion of the US west  coast, and urged the country to move away from its dependence on oil.

Meanwhile, oil eased to near $144 a barrel today as a US plan to restore confidence in its financial sector shored up the dollar and financial markets, but worries about threats to supplies provided support.

US crude was $1.35 down at $143.73 a barrel, while London Brent crude was $1.19 down at $143.30. US crude hit a record high of $147.27 last Friday, as concerns about threats to global oil supplies and a deteriorating US economic landscape hit financial markets, driving investors to seek the relative safety of commodities.