Florida beaches, park protected from drilling

| Friday, May 31, 2002

President Bush said Wednesday the U.S. government would pay about $235 million to buy mineral rights near the Everglades and parts of the Florida coast, preventing oil and gas drilling. The natural gas industry said the deal would make U.S. energy self-sufficiency more elusive.

The U.S. government agreed to pay the oil and gas reserves holder about $120 million for mineral rights in Big Cypress National Preserve, the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. The Interior Department estimated the reserves at the equivalent of 40 million barrels of oil or roughly two days of U.S. domestic consumption.

Under the second agreement, the government will pay about $115 million to several oil companies to buy out seven of nine natural gas leases in the "Destin Dome Unit" field off the coast of Pensacola, FL. Congressional approval is required to finalize the agreement.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said the Destin Dome leases, awarded under the Clinton administration, could have brought oil rigs within 25 miles of Florida's coast, raising the possibility of oil spills that could devastate the state's tourism industry.

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