Controversial Gulf of Mexico drilling proposal expected in Senate soon

| 2/8/2006

Despite a defeat in the U.S. Senate last year of a measure that would’ve opened drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, two lawmakers are about to introduce a bill that would allow drilling in a similarly controversial area in the Gulf of Mexico.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Pete Domenici, R-NM, and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, are expected to introduce the legislation, which would allow drilling in Lease Sale 181, a 6 million-acre area in the Gulf. Supporters of drilling in the area believe it to contain as much as 7.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, Reuters reported.

If approved, the rule would require a no-drilling buffer of 100 miles between Lease 181 and the western Florida coastline, and would not interfere with the “Military Mission Line,” an area south of the Florida Panhandle that was identified in 2005 by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as a crucial area for military training and operations that should not be disturbed by drilling, according to Reuters.

Even though it has yet to be introduced, the drilling proposal is already being met with stiff opposition.

On Wed., Feb. 1, the two U.S. Senators from Florida – Republican Mel Martinez, and Democrat Bill Nelson – introduced a bill that would prevent drilling within 260 miles of the state’s western coastline, and within 150 miles of the eastern coast, according to The Associated Press.

“Florida’s economy and environment, and our country’s military preparedness are at stake,” Nelson said in a press release. “Our unspoiled beaches and abundant fisheries make Florida one of the world’s tourism jewels.”