Government won't lift drilling ban in Florida

Obama official says that eastern Gulf of Mexico is off limits for at least seven years because of BP oil spill

Published December 1, 2010 4:07PM (EST)

The Obama administration won't allow any new oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico for at least the next seven years because of the BP oil spill, a senior administration official told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The area that includes the waters off Florida's coast had been considered for drilling as part of the management plan for the Outer Continental Shelf. Just a month before the April spill, the Obama administration had announced plans to allow drilling in the eastern Gulf.

"In light of the BP spill, we've learned a lot and understand the need to elevate the safety and environmental standards," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision hadn't been announced yet. "We took a second look at the announced plan and modified it to remove the Eastern Gulf of Mexico from leasing consideration."

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar planned to discuss the decision Wednesday afternoon.

The eastern Gulf of Mexico -- an area stretching from 125 to 300 miles off Florida's coast -- was singled out for protection by Congress in 2006 as part of a deal with Florida lawmakers that made available 8.3 million acres to oil and gas development in the east-central Gulf. The protected region is to remain off limits to energy development until 2022.

But the administration had entertained the idea of expanded drilling, until the BP spill that spewed an estimated 172 million gallons of oil into the Gulf.

Florida has long banned drilling in its state-controlled waters -- those immediately off its shores, before federal jurisdiction takes over farther out -- because of fears that a spill would damage its beaches, the state's biggest tourism draw. But even state lawmakers, including Gov. Charlie Crist, were considering opening those waters to drilling before the spill.

Officials for the major oil drillers and firms that service the industry did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

By Brendan Farrington

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