Drilling plan includes area off Florida


Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 30, 2007 at 10:44 p.m.

WASHINGTON - Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne released a five-year offshore drilling plan on Monday that would set in motion oil and gas leasing off Florida that Congress approved in December.

The department expects to begin leasing in a large tract south of the Panhandle in October, followed next year by leasing in a smaller section to the east. A third lease sale in a vast tract further south in deeper Gulf waters is scheduled for 2009.

The plan, which covers July 2007 through June 2012, also calls for leasing in waters off Virginia that are now off limits and would expand production off Alaska. Congress would have to pass a law allowing the Virginia leasing, which the state Legislature requested under conditions that Kempthorne said the department has met.

"This program gives great weight to the desires of coastal states regarding oil and gas development near their shores,'' Kempthorne said.

All told, he said, the plan sets 21 lease sales and opens about 48 million acres where drilling has not previously been allowed, including 8.3 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico that begin 125 miles south of the Florida Panhandle and 234 miles west of Tampa Bay. The plan for the Gulf adheres to legislation that was the subject of protracted negotiations and battles with lawmakers from Florida.

Congress has 60 days to block the plan or Kempthorne would implement it.

The department estimates the entire plan would produce 10 billion barrels of oil and 45 trillion cubic feet of natural gas over 40 years. The new Gulf of Mexico waters are believed to contain 637 million barrels of oil and 2.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The legislation passed by Congress to allow drilling east of the Alabama-Florida landline also requires the department to share royalties from new drilling in the Gulf of Mexico with Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

Florida gave up its share to win the buffer zone that will keep drilling far from shore until at least 2022.

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