|The Bushwackers Strike Again!! - There Should Be NO DRILLING!!|
Compromise limits new drilling off Fla.
The plan, which puts leases 285 miles off Pinellas, tries to defuse a powerful issue between Bush brothers.
|By BILL ADAIR and CRAIG PITTMAN
© St. Petersburg Times,
WASHINGTON -- In a move that won praise from Republicans and mixed reviews from environmentalists, the Bush administration on Monday announced plans to sell oil and gas leases in a drastically reduced area of the Gulf of Mexico.
Interior Secretary Gale Norton said the new area for future leases was one-fourth the size of the original proposal and was at least 100 miles from Florida beaches. The new site is 285 miles west of Pinellas County, rather than 213 miles in the original proposal.
At a news conference, Norton said the new tract is so far from Florida that people standing on the state's beaches would not be able to see any oil or gas rigs.
By announcing the scaled-back proposal for the Gulf of Mexico tract known as Area 181, the Bush administration is trying to defuse a powerful issue as the president's brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, heads into a re-election campaign. (Do not Re-Elect) Like most Florida politicians, Gov. Bush has said he opposes drilling off the state's coast -- and he has told his brother as much repeatedly.
Two weeks ago, the U.S. House of Representatives voted against the original 181 plan, reflecting public opposition to drilling and President Bush's energy policies. By making the announcement now, the administration probably has pre-empted the Senate from taking more drastic action.
The new site is entirely to the west of the Alabama-Florida line, to respond to strong opposition from Florida and still satisfy the desire for more drilling from Alabama and Louisiana.
"My decision today represents a compromise -- a very reasonable compromise," Norton said.
She said the site was critical to the nation's energy needs. It would provide enough oil to fuel the automobiles of 1-million families for nearly six years and enough natural gas to serve 1-million families for 15 years.
The announcement was praised by Gov. Bush and other Florida Republicans who had opposed the original plan. Bush called the compromise "a balanced decision that will benefit all Floridians."
Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Largo, dubbed the plan "181 Lite" and said it protected Florida's interests. (Do not Re-Elect)
"This is actually a better compromise than we were hoping for," Young said.
Several environmental groups said they liked the plan.
Enid Sisskin of Gulf Coast Environmental Defense, a Panhandle group that has battled Chevron, praised the 181 deal, saying she was "thrilled to see that the blocks off Florida were cut out."
Although she said she would have preferred to see the entire sale canceled, "this was the best we're going to get. It seems to be a really big victory because it avoids setting the precedent of selling leases off of Florida."
Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation, said the deal was "great. It seems to address the vast majority of Florida's concerns about the issue."
However, some environmentalists pointed out that Florida is still at risk because there is drilling within a short distance of the state. In fact, the closest rig is only 20 miles from the Panhandle.
Frank Jackalone, regional director of the Sierra Club, criticized both Bushes for making the compromise. He said the new area has an especially high concentration of oil, which could lead to an oil spill, more tanker traffic in the gulf and an increase in the number of oil refineries.
"The president and the governor had a faceoff and Jeb blinked," said Jackalone.
Representatives of oil and gas companies were not happy the leasing area was being scaled back.
David Mica, (any relation to John Mica R-Winter Park?) executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, said the leasing area has been shrunk so much that it won't reduce the nation's dependency on foreign energy sources.
"The announcement today is disappointing from the standpoint that we are probably going to be more dependent on sources that aren't so close to home," Mica said.
David Duplantier, senior counsel for Chevron USA, said the Area 181 deal indicates that federal officials also will oppose his company's request to drill for natural gas in the "Destin Dome" area 25 miles south of Pensacola Beach.
"This is just another indication that there is no way Destin Dome 56 can go forward," Duplantier said. "They've put all the leases around Destin Dome on hold until 2006 and now they've taken these leases to the west of us off the table. Quite frankly, the permitting process the government is putting us through is a farce."
Norton said Monday there had been no decision on the Destin Dome site. That is being handled by the Commerce Department, which is responsible for appeals under a federal coastal law.
Officials gave conflicting accounts Monday of who made the decision.
Asked about her role, Norton said she had discussed the issue with the president but said "it has always been clear from the White House that this was my decision."
However, Gov. Jeb Bush said, "in the end it was my brother" who made the decision.
Jeb Bush said he has spoken to his brother several times about the lease, the most recent being Thursday when the two talked on the phone. The governor said he also lobbied Norton, Chief of Staff Andy Card and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Democrats were not satisfied with the compromise.
"It could have been worse, but I think we can do better," said Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa. "They're still going to drill 100 miles off the coast of Pensacola. That sounds to me to be too close."
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said it appeared that the Bush administration had gained "the upper hand on the issue." He blamed the Bush administration for listening to the oil industry and said Monday's decision will likely set the stage for future oil and gas drilling. (Believe THIS!!)
"They are going to be drilling in 1.5-million acres, which poses a substantial threat to the beaches of Florida," Nelson said. "It is the proverbial camel's nose under the tent -- to allow big oil companies into the rest of the Gulf of Mexico."
Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., tried to walk a fine line between outright approval or disapproval of the compromise. He said the decision "appears to be a partial victory" for Florida, although he also noted that the "threat to our beaches is still imminent." (Believe THIS!!)
The Bush administration has emphasized the need for more domestic sources of energy, especially cleaner fuels such as natural gas. But the proposal for Area 181 actually began in 1997, when the Clinton administration struck a deal with Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles about the original boundaries of the tract. The proposal became controversial earlier this year when Gov. Jeb Bush said he opposed the plan.
In the next week, the administration is scheduled to release its final environmental impact statement on the tract and then begin a 60-day comment period. Final notice of the sale is scheduled for October, with the actual sale of the leases scheduled for December.
- Times staff writers Alisa Ulferts, Tim Nickens and John Balz contributed to this report
Drilling in the Gulf of Mexico
The closest active drilling: Union Oil Company (Unocal) owns a gas rig about 10 miles off the coast of Alabama, and about 20 miles from Florida.
The count: there are currently about 4,000 oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.
The deepest: Unocal is drilling an exploration well for oil and gas in 9,743 feet of water less than four miles from the U.S.-Mexico coastline.
The production: About 522-million barrels of oil were extracted from the Gulf in 2000, up about 5.5-percent over the year before. Gas production dipped slightly.
Source: Minerals Management Service
What they said
"We're very glad that the Bush administrations in Washington and
Tallahassee stepped up to help us out in this area. It's a very big win for
"Today the Bush oil machine began its encroachment into the Eastern Gulf
of Mexico - threatening Florida's pristine gulf coast beaches and our
state's way of life."
"Today, both Jeb and George Bush broke their promises to Floridians. Jeb
Bush and George W. Bush compromised themselves and they compromised
Florida's environment and our economy in a sellout to Big Oil."
"The pres has taken our position to heart and I think Floridians have
made their point. But Florida will remain poised to fight at any turn."
"The compromise shows that Jeb did not have a fortitude to carry this to
victory. If the delegation and the governor had stayed firm, no drilling
would have happened."
"The White House has been trying to work with the state. Hopefully it
will be acceptable to the delegation. I don't see any reason why it
"Our delegation and Jeb Bush have done an outstanding job in getting the
most threatening areas taken off the table. But the threat still remains.
The battle is far from over."