Eastern Gulf of Mexico to Be Opened

Florida House lawmakers went on the attack over the Department of the Interior's five-year leasing plan (2007-2012) for the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

The Department of the Interior new leasing plan would open up additional acreage in the natural gas-rich eastern Gulf of Mexico to producers.

At opposition with 21 members of Florida's congressional delegation is the opening of 2 million acres of Lease 181 to oil exploration, drilling, and production. In a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton Monday, the Florida contingent expressed strong disagreement with the Minerals Management Service (MMS) proposal, noting that the new boundaries come within 16 miles of the beaches of Pensacola, Florida.

The MMS plan calls for the sale of areas within Lease 181 on five separate occasions, which would make the areas "the most intensively leased region on the entire OCS," the lawmakers said in the letter. "We ask MMS to restore the Eastern and Central Gulf of Mexico Planning Area boundaries to their original location and to remove the additional two million acres of Lease Sale 181 from consideration."

The new MMS proposal was released last month, and it realigns the boundaries of the Central Gulf Planning Area to correspond with the new Federal OCS Offshore Administrative Areas, which were announced in early January.

The MMS draft proposal will move the Central and Eastern Gulf lines to approximately 100 miles off the coast of Florida. There would be no leasing in the new Eastern Gulf Planning area adjacent to Florida.

These new two million acres to be added to the Lease 181 sale are not under the Federal Moratoria, and could be leased as early as August, 2007, according to Interior.

Furthermore, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to vote on legislation on March 8, 2006, which would open up as much as 3.6 million additional acres in Lease 181.

The bill, sponsored by Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) and ranking Democrat Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, faces sharp opposition from Florida's senators, Republican Mel Martinez and Democrat Bill Nelson. Martinez is a member of the Senate energy panel. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who also sits on the committee, has said she will vote against the Domenici-Bingaman bill, if it does not offer a greater share of revenues to coastal states for production off their shores.