WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he has ordered a review of the nation's known offshore energy reserves and that the waters of the eastern Gulf of Mexico off Florida should be "on the table" as the Obama administration devises a comprehensive energy plan.
Salazar also delayed a last-minute Bush administration plan to open almost the entire U.S. coast to drilling, including Florida's, and said the nation needs to develop renewable energy sources in its oceans as well, such as wind and wave power.
"To those of you from the oil and gas industry, I pledge that you will have a seat at the table in this administration. I assure you that you will play an important role in helping us meet our nation's energy needs," Salazar told a gathering of representatives of both the industry and environmental organizations at the department Tuesday.
"But President Obama and I believe that we need to be honest about our energy future. A drill-only approach — onshore or offshore — is not enough."
His statements marked a sharp departure from the Bush administration, which was often slow to embrace alternative energy sources, and industry representatives criticized him for stalling, if not derailing, Bush's attempts to exploit more of the outer-continental shelf.
Environmental groups generally hailed his call to let science, rather than ideology or political alliances, help determine the nation's appropriate fuel mix.
Yet Salazar also made clear that the quarter-century-old presidential moratorium on offshore drilling that covered most of the nation's coasts, and which President Bush revoked last year, isn't coming back.
Drilling is prohibited by law within about 100 miles of Pensacola and 234 miles of Tampa Bay through 2022, thanks to a 2006 congressional compromise that keeps millions of acres of the eastern gulf free of obstruction for U.S. Air Force and Navy training.
But Salazar said the region has known reserves of natural gas and "that area will be included in our review."
"The question becomes how close should we come to the coast of Florida," he said, "how close you want to come to the military mission line, and is the line where it is today in the right place."
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., an ardent opponent of drilling off Florida, already has expressed his concerns to Salazar's office. "Sen. Nelson is aware of no new evidence that would suggest drilling off the coast of Florida would produce enough energy to justify risking the economy and environment of the fourth-largest state in the nation," spokesman Dan McLaughlin said.
In the last two business days of the Bush administration, the Interior Department released a plan to allow drilling off most of the U.S. coast. Salazar announced Tuesday he's putting that on hold and extending the public comment period from March to September. He also has asked the U.S. Minerals Management Service and the U.S. Geological Survey to compile all known details about the size and scope of offshore oil and gas reserves within 45 days. Then, the Interior Department will come up with a plan for "filling in the holes" in that knowledge.
Wes Allison can be reached at [email protected] or (202) 463-0577.