View Full Version : Senate Panel OKs Florida Offshore Drilling Plan

03-08-2006, 09:26 PM
Senate panel OKs Florida offshore drilling plan


Wed Mar 8, 2006 1:50 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate Energy Committee voted on Wednesday to open nearly 3 million acres of federal waters in the eastern Gulf of Mexico to energy exploration development, bringing the politically contentious issue closer to reality.

The proposal to open to development 2.9 million acres in the Outer Continental Shelf 100 miles off Florida passed 16-5, with one senator voting "present."

The bill backed by Republican Pete Domenici, chairman of the panel, and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, its top Democrat, targets natural gas in Lease Sale 181.

"This is the most important piece of energy legislation we have taken up since passing the energy bill last year," Domenici said in a statement, saying supplies from the area "will have a profound effect on gas supply and price."

The area may hold as much as 7.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to heat nearly 6 million homes for 15 years, Domenici said.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, a pro-drilling Democrat from Louisiana, voted against the proposal because it does not share revenues for drilling on Lease 181 -- estimated at up to $11 billion over its lifetime -- with coastal states hit by hurricanes Rita and Katrina.

The panel's two Florida lawmakers, who have fought to keep the area near that state's panhandle off-limits to drilling, also voted against the plan.

The area was shut to drilling after Florida officials complained that an oil spill or other exploration accident could foul beaches and hurt the state's multibillion-dollar tourism industry.

Separately, the Senate late on Tuesday added $1 billion to low-income energy assistance programs.