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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Obama ready to kick start Gulf oil drilling



WASHINGTON -- President Obama on Wednesday will announce a broad new push for domestic oil drilling that could include the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Details obtained by the St. Petersburg Times indicate the Interior Department proposal could be the strongest push yet to open up drilling off Florida's coast.

"While much of the Eastern Gulf is currently under a Congressional moratorium on oil and gas operations, Interior’s plan would open up approximately 2/3 of the available oil and gas resources in this region in the event that the moratorium is lifted," a White House official said. "Military training in the Eastern Gulf will be protected and drilling activities will occur more than 125 miles from the Florida coast."

The moratorium came in 2006, thanks to Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez, and bans drilling within 230 miles of Tampa Bay and 100 miles of the Panhandle through 2022. That could not be threatened and the Atlantic coast would be opened up under Obama's plan.

The new zones would fall under a five-year plan that would require extensive study. But Obama is signaling to Congress that he is willing to move on the sensitive issue as a way of advancing a sprawling energy and climate bill, expected to include drilling, through the Senate.

Obama will announce the proposal along with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, the theme being energy security. Florida once had a united political front against drilling but some lawmakers have moderated their views under a big push by the GOP.

The state also lost Martinez, who stood in solid opposition with Nelson. Gov. Charlie Crist replaced Martinez, who quit last summer, with George LeMieux, who has said he is open to drilling, if done safely.

Nelson recently met with Salazar on drilling and pushed for the 125 mile buffer as well as assurances that military areas would not be affected.

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 11:25am]


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