As gas prices reach $4 per gallon, the House passed legislation Thursday that would allow offshore drilling to expand, but an environmental watchdog says the bill will not help bring down gas prices and would weaken government oversight.

"It’s astounding enough that the House would even consider expanding offshore drilling before implementing any of the recommended safeguards to prevent another disaster like the BP Deepwater Horizon spill," Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said. "But doing so under the false premise that more drilling will somehow help consumers struggling with high gas prices today is simply misleading and wrong."

It would take at least seven or eight years before new drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico or offshore Virginia had an effect on gas prices, according to the Associated Press.

The Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act, sponsored by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), requires the U.S. Secretary of Interior to reopen offshore lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore Virginia that were canceled after the BP spill last summer.

"Let's send a signal to the international markets that America is serious about becoming less dependent on foreign oil," said Hastings.

Beinecke, who was also a former member of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, said the legislation would only help large oil companies, like Exxon Mobil, BP and Shell.

"Instead of continuing to vote for policies that only increase our dependence on oil, members of Congress should instead be voting to reduce taxpayer subsidies to oil companies, which have all the money they need without assistance from taxpayers," he said.