Fla. Senators Fight Drilling Plan

Friday, February 17, 2006
Citing environmental concerns, Florida senators sought to scale back oil and gas drilling plans for a part of the Gulf of Mexico, hoping to push development farther from the state's coast, the Washington Post reported. But the Republican chairman and top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee indicated they would press ahead with legislation that would open more of the area to gas development at least 50 miles closer to Florida. Proponents of the exploration say the area offers the best chance for significant new natural gas production in the next five years. The bill would require the Interior Department to begin selling leases for oil and gas development in the "181 area" of the central Gulf within a year. Last week, the department said it planned to offer leases in the area beginning next year as part of its next five-year plan for offshore oil development. Elaborating on the proposal at the Senate hearing, the head of the Minerals Management Agency said the agency was starting an 18-month process toward such lease sales. Supporters add that any actual production from the area may probably be four years or five years away. The 2 million acres considered for leasing are believed to contain 930 million barrels of oil and 6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas- enough gas to heat 6 million homes for 15 years. The government's leasing plan would, for the first time, open the possibility of oil and gas development off the Virginia coast. That would happen only if Congress and the state agreed on lifting the current freeze on energy development. There is a growing movement in Congress for legislation that would allow states to seek an exemption from the drilling freeze in place for almost all coastal waters outside the western Gulf of Mexico. The 181 area is not under the freeze and Virginia officials have expressed an interest in getting out of it. (Source: The Washington Post)

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