Congress Approves Offshore Oil & Gas Development affecting the Florida Keys
In the waning hours of the lame duck Republican controlled Congress, a bill was approved to open up 6 million acres of oil and gas drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, otherwise know as Lease Sale 181. Reef Relief and many Floridians opposed this. The legislation was added to major tax legislation that passed by a large margin. Some interpreted this as a win because it establishes a ban on drilling 125 miles off Florida's West coast. Also, President Bush has revoked his previous protections for Bristol Bay, Alaska, while not mentioning the Keys, which is still under his Presidential moratoria. However, if this Congressional bill is signed into law by the President, it will have the effect of revoking his current ban.
Several oil drilling bills were filed during the current Congress. The most onerous was a House bill by Richard Pombo, which was defeated. However, a less expansive, but still dangerous bill was introduced by Florida Senators Mel Martinez and Bill Nelson that will allowed drilling in Lease Sale 181, an area where the Gulf Loop Current would carry any routine but still very toxic drilling muds right into the Lower Florida Keys and then up our reef tract. The two bills were never reconciled and the House of Representatives finally took action to pass the Senate bill. It was pulled from the House on December 5th when it became clear to Republicans that they did not have the necessary two-thirds majority votes, but added as a rider to the tax bill days later. The political climate has changed since elections and what seemed a certainty earlier may no longer be, so hopefully, the next Congress will approve moratoria language that would have the effect of not funding this part of the bill. Presidential and Congressional moratoriums have protected this area for over 25 years for good reason. In addition, the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service has included this area in its current Five Year Plan. So further efforts will be needed to monitor this issue and continue to resist efforts to open up Florida to tarballs on our beaches and oil slicks on our mangroves and coral reefs. For more background on the issue, go to www.reefrelief.org