President George W. Bush on recently said he was open to pending proposals in Congress to expand oil and natural gas leasing in federal waters provided it was at least 100 miles offshore. About 3 million acres in the eastern Gulf of Mexico would be opened to oil and natural gas drilling under a bipartisan Senate bill but the legislation could face problems from Florida and other coastal lawmakers as it moves to the floor. There are also efforts in the U.S. House to expand the areas in which industry can drill, although it remains unclear whether high energy costs will soften longstanding resistance to the idea from voters.
Currently, only the central and western Gulf
of Mexico and limited parts offshore Alaska are open to industry. The Clinton administration in 1997 proposed to expand drilling dramatically in the resource-rich eastern U.S. Gulf, but most of the region remained closed after the Bush administration backed away from the plan during Florida's gubernatorial race involving the president's brother, Gov. Jeb Bush. The Bush administration eventually opened a small portion of the eastern Gulf but industry has been pressing to gain more access. (Source: Reuters)