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Florida House Victory on Offshore Drilling Cut Off in Senate

The American Petroleum Institute (API) last week applauded the Florida House of Representatives' quick passage of a bill that would set the stage for oil and natural gas drilling in state waters. But the victory was short-lived as Senate officials said they had no intention of addressing the measure in the remaining few days of the legislative session.

No sooner had the House overwhelmingly approved the legislation by 70-43 last Monday than Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander and Senate President Jeff Atwater said the bill was dead in the Senate this session, the Miami Herald reported. "That's a really significantly important issue. It'd be very difficult to imagine that's part of [an] end-game for this session," Atwater was quoted as saying. The regular session of the Florida General Assembly ended Friday.

Gov. Charlie Crist also indicated that he was concerned about the timing of the bill and the fact that it would allow near-shore oil and gas activity, reports said. The bill (HB 1219), sponsored by state Rep. Dean Cannon, would permit Crist and the Florida cabinet to consider and accept bids to explore for oil and natural gas in state waters (see Daily GPI, April 24).

But the API, which represents producers, was undeterred. "We hope that the state's governor and its Senate can see the wisdom in the House proposal, and reopen the door to offshore oil and gas development that would benefit not only Florida but the entire nation," said API President Jack Gerard.

"Florida's House of Representatives -- like the majority of Americans -- recognizes that domestic oil and natural gas development is necessary to preserve and create jobs, generate revenues for cash-strapped [states] and local governments and bolster America's energy security. It also recognizes the nation's oil and gas industry uses state-of-the-art technology and strict operating practices to ensure that any development would be done in a way that protects both the environment and the state's vital tourism industry," he said.

While the Florida House bill sought to open state waters to drilling, activity in federal waters off Florida's western shore would continue to be banned. A 125-mile, no-drill buffer remains in place in federal waters off the western Florida coast until 2022.

Florida is the second East Coast state -- the other being Virginia -- that has tried to open its waters to offshore production in recent years (see NGI, April 11, 2005).

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