The chief members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee agreed late Tuesday, following a day of intense pressure from Florida senators, to oppose any effort to weaken the moratorium on drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) off the coast of Florida or to open up Lease 181 in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Florida’s junior senator, Mel Martinez, negotiated the deal late Tuesday with Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), chairman of the Senate energy panel, and Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

The Florida senators on Tuesday threatened to filibuster the omnibus Senate energy bill, which is currently being debated, unless Domenici and Bingaman assured them in writing that the ban on drilling off Florida’s shores would remain intact.

The agreement “lessens the threat to the moratorium” protecting the Sunshine State’s coastline, said Bridget Walsh, deputy legislative director for Nelson.

Even though it applies only to Florida’s offshore region, the accord deals a major blow to the plans of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) to offer an amendment that would give nonproducing coastal states the opportunity to opt out of the 20-year-old congressional moratorium on oil and natural gas drilling in much of the OCS, said Walsh.

“The biggest threat [of Landrieu’s amendment] has been to the eastern Gulf” that is adjacent to Florida’s shores, but that threat has been eliminated as a result of the agreement, she noted. Walsh signaled that Landrieu has backed away from offering her moratorium amendment. Despite repeated attempts, NGI was unable to confirm this with Landrieu’s office.

In addition to the OCS moratorium, Domenici and Bingaman also agreed to oppose any attempts to redraw the seaward boundary line with respect to Florida, she said. The agreement, however, does not affect a section in the Senate energy bill that calls for an inventory to be conducted of oil and natural gas resources on the OCS, Walsh noted.

Because of the demands of the Florida senators, “we’re not going to do anything significant” in the energy bill to give states the option to produce natural gas off their shores, said Domenici on the Senate floor Wednesday.

“Off our [shores] sits the largest reserve of natural gas,” he noted, but the United States will be denied much of the gas because of the opposition of Florida, a state that consumes more gas than it produces.

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