Monday, June 20, 2005

Senators from five coastal states are working to lift state moratoriums on offshore drilling and require the states to provide an inventory of promising oil deposits along their coastlines, an issue the Senate will vote on today.

Some coastal states fear that taking an inventory would be the first step toward a federal mandate to lift state bans on offshore drilling in the outer continental shelf — the section of the ocean beyond the seabed of the continental United States.

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, was able to get the mandatory inventory provision into the stalled energy package while it was in committee, and she is expected to push for lifting current bans on oil and gas drilling in a deal that also would allow her state to reap more revenue royalties.

“With young men and women sacrificing their lives every day in Iraq, it would be unconscionable for us to not look into our own domestic energy supply to reduce our growing dependence on Mideast oil,” Mrs. Landrieu said. “The American people have a right to know how rich they are and how much more energy independent they could be.”

She is working with senators from Alabama, Mississippi, Alaska and Texas.

The energy bill is pending on the Senate floor, where opponents of the inventory will try to strip out those provisions.

“Senator Mel Martinez and I will try to strike the inventory or try to allow each state to opt out of giving an inventory,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat.

Mr. Martinez, Florida Republican, and Mr. Nelson adamantly oppose offshore drilling or any hint of federal legislation allowing drilling near their borders, fearing a spill will kill their state’s most lucrative business, beach tourism.

The state politicians of Virginia, California and South Carolina are not yet ready to open the door under federal duress, perceived as a violation of state’s rights, by being forced to provide a list of their prime oil locations, Mr. Nelson added.

Mrs. Landrieu, whose home state has been producing more oil through offshore rigs longer than any other state, but receives only 12.5 percent of the revenue, has an ally in Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican and head of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“I think she’s right on this issue, and I am committed to helping our producing coastal states keep more of the revenues they help generate,” Mr. Domenici said.

The energy bill also contains the largest authorization ever, some $500 million annually during the next five years, to the five coastal energy-producing states without offshore-drilling bans.

The distribution to these states would switch from a flat percentage and be based on the level of the state’s energy production. Louisiana’s share of production is currently 80 percent.

A recent poll of six states (California, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia) conducted by MWR Strategies showed that a majority of residents, ranging from 64 percent to 82 percent, approved of offshore drilling for oil and natural gas and said it can be done safely. The polls surveyed between 600 and 800 registered voters per state.

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