HOUSTON - Oil and gas companies have accelerated spending on lobbying faster than any other industry, training their profits on Washington to fight new taxes on drilling and slow efforts to move the nation off fossil fuels.

The industry spent $44.5 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies in the first three months of this year, on pace to shatter last year's record. Only the drug industry spent more.

Last year's total of $129 million was up 73 percent from two years earlier. That is a faster clip than any other major industry, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

From the late 1990s through the first half of this decade, the oil industry spent roughly $50 million to $60 million a year on lobbying. It increased lobbying in 2006, when Democrats retook Congress, and further as President Obama took office.

"They're under attack, they're ramping up their operations, and they've got money to spend," said Tyson Slocum, who runs the energy program at watchdog group Public Citizen. "They're in much better position than other industries to draw upon financial resources for their lobbying effort."

Billions of dollars in oil profits in recent years have made the industry a target for new and higher taxes on exploration and drilling. Oil companies and refiners are also trying to blunt the effect of costly climate-change legislation pushed by Obama.

While most oil and gas executives acknowledge the nation needs cleaner energy, they say lawmakers are misguided about how quickly it can happen. They warn that taxes and tighter rules on exploration could cripple the industry before new technology is developed.

Complex issues such as that "require additional communication and effort to ensure lawmakers understand our positions," said Alan Jeffers, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil Corp., the world's largest publicly traded oil company.

Exxon Mobil was the biggest spender in the first quarter, pumping $9.3 million into Washington - three times what it spent a year earlier, according to House disclosure reports.

In its House filing, Exxon noted it lobbied on high-profile topics such as climate and tax legislation as well as provisions regarding the chemical industry, education, and health care.

Combined, the three largest U.S. oil companies - Exxon, Chevron Corp., and ConocoPhillips - spent about $22 million on lobbying in the first quarter. Smaller, independent companies that produce the bulk of the nation's crude and natural gas are spending millions, too.

They are spending more even as profits have subsided.

First-quarter spending on lobbying by the oil industry trailed only drugmakers and health-products companies, which spent $66.6 million.