NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
As the energy bill moves closer to becoming law, debate is still raging over the first overhaul of national energy policy in a decade.
Supporters say the $14.5 billion bill will pave the way for more exploration and ultimately less reliance on foreign oil. Critics say it will enrich the already wealthy oil industry without addressing the need for relief from record oil and gasoline prices.
But if there's one thing that both parties can agree on, it's that the oil industry as a whole stands to benefit from its passage -- which could be an attractive point for investors looking to share the wealth.
The bill, which has already been approved by the House and is expected to pass the Senate on Friday, provides $14.5 billion in tax breaks and incentives over 10 years to encourage domestic production of oil, coal, natural gas and nuclear energy. Nearly $9 billion is set aside for oil and gas, electricity and coal companies, while about $5 billion will go towards energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.
Large oil producers stand to benefit, said Rick Mueller, senior oil analyst at Energy Security Analysts. He said companies such as Exxon Mobil (Research), ConocoPhillips (Research) and BP (Research) are among the winners of the bill, given their strong exploration presence in the Gulf of Mexico, which produces 1.5 million barrels of oil a day.
The bill will provide an elimination of royalties that oil and gas companies pay the government for drilling in the deep water in the Gulf of Mexico. While details still need to be finalized, those companies that drill deeper will receive more relief, said KeyBanc vice president Kim Pacanovsky.
The American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, estimated that the oil industry pays upward of $5 billion in royalties to the U.S. government for oil and gas production, much of which comes from its deep production in federal waters.
Oil services firms such as Schlumberger (Research) and Halliburton (Research) -- once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney -- could also see some gains from the bill down the road, Mueller added.
But don't expect the market to have a knee-jerk reaction to the bill's passage, KeyBanc's Kim Pacanovsky said. She said that while tax incentives may provide a boost for deep-water exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, the process remains expensive. And she added that the bill does nothing to curtail the volatility in oil prices, which remains a concern for industry executives and investors.
The oil industry won't be alone in reaping the benefits of a revamped energy policy. Investors may want to take a look at coal stocks, said David Pursell, partner at Pickering Energy Partners, an energy research firm.
"There will be more interest in clean coal technology, which should help the coal guys more than anyone else," he said.
He said the incentives to promote drilling are largely contained to the Gulf of Mexico, leaving potentially oil-rich areas such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and some areas in California virtually untapped.
That should rev up the need for more efficient forms of coal for fuel, and that should boost coal stocks such as Peabody Energy (Research) -- the world's largest coal producer, which counts U.S. power companies for 90 percent of its sales.
The revamped bill also calls for the U.S. to nearly double is usage of ethanol to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012 and provides tax incentives for the creation of ethanol plants -- a move that will help big ethanol producers such as Archer Daniels Midland (Research) and closely held Cargill, said John Eichberger, director of motor fuels at the National Association of Convenience Stores, an international trade association.
He said the new focus on ethanol -- a corn-based additive that allows gasoline to burn more cleanly -- could eventually phase out the use of methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE), a fuel additive also meant to reduce pollution from auto emissions that has been criticized for contaminating ground water and possibly being a carcinogen.
MTBE makers may feel the heat if the energy bill passes into law, analysts said. The energy bill omitted a limited liability provision for manufacturers of the substance, which opens the door to possible litigation down the road.
That could potentially hurt companies such as Lyondell (Research), which are among the largest producers of MTBEs and Valero Energy (Research), which produces MTBEs for use in its own oil production.
But ultimately, analysts said the only losers to the bill remain consumers.
"It's more of a feel-good bill than anything else," said Pickering Energy's Pursell. "The bill does nothing to reduce our dependence on imported oil and the only winners will be those that benefit from high energy prices."
(Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the name of Archer Daniels Midland Co. We regret the error).
For more on the energy bill click here: House approves $14.5B energy bill.
To see the EPA's view on fuel efficiency, click here.
For an outlook on oil prices, click here.