Rising gas prices renew fight over offshore drilling
A tract of sea floor more than a mile beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico lies at the center of a fight in Congress over the future of offshore drilling, with billions of dollars at stake.
For 25 years, a congressional moratorium, renewed annually, has barred exploration on 85 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf, from three miles offshore, where federal waters begin, to 200 miles out, where U.S. jurisdiction ends.
Yet the spike in natural gas prices last fall has inspired a coalition of industrial users and a variety of lawmakers to try again to modify the moratorium.
Much of the haggling has been over the New Jersey-size tract known as Lease 181.
The fight has made some strange bedfellows.
President Bush has done little to break the impasse, in deference to his brother Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., who have opposed offshore drilling.
That has angered conservative Rep. John E. Peterson, R-Pa., who with liberal Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, tried to strike the words “natural gas” from the moratorium, which would allow natural gas wells within three miles of U.S. coasts.