Trump administration bars oil drilling off Florida after governor's plea

by Reuters
Wednesday, 10 January 2018 03:18 GMT

(Adds coastal state governors, attorneys general seeking exemptions)

WASHINGTON, Jan 9 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump's administration will not allow drilling for oil and gas off the coast of Florida after urging from the state's governor, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said on Tuesday.

"I support the governor's position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver," Zinke said in a statement. "As a result of discussion with Governor (Rick) Scott and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms."

The Trump administration last week proposed opening nearly all U.S. offshore waters to oil and gas drilling, a move aimed at boosting domestic energy production and which sparked protests from coastal states, environmentalists and the tourism industry.

The administration's decision on Tuesday removes from consideration a portion of the eastern Gulf of Mexico, an area that oil drillers have said they are interested in exploring – but not all of it.

Florida state waters extend 3 nautical miles from the shore on the Atlantic, and 9 nautical miles on the Gulf side, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Scott last week announced his opposition to the drilling plan and said he had asked to meet with Zinke.

Zinke's decision to exempt Florida from offshore drilling leaves the door open for other governors opposed to offshore oil and gas development to seek a similar prohibition for their states.

Oceana, an environmental lobby group, said it was pleased that Zinke had removed Florida from areas open to drilling.

"Such a quick reversal begs the question: Will the Trump administration give equal consideration to all the other coastal Governors from both parties who overwhelmingly reject this radical offshore drilling plan?" Oceana campaign director Diane Hoskins said in a statement.

On Twitter, several governors, attorneys general and lawmakers representing coastal states asked Zinke to extend the exemption for Florida to their coastal waters. The governors of New York and Oregon and the attorneys general of Maryland and California were among those who called on Zinke to ban offshore drilling.

Environmental groups Greenpeace and the League of Conservation Voters called the move to protect Florida a political ploy meant to bolster the governor who is reportedly planning to run for an open U.S. Senate seat.

"President Trump has directed me to rebuild our offshore oil and gas program in a manner that supports our national energy policy and also takes into consideration the local and state voice," Zinke said in Tuesday's statement.

Zinke said last week that the department's draft National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2019 to 2024 would make over 90 percent of the outer continental shelf's total acreage available for leasing to drillers, a national record.

That would reverse the Obama administration order placing 94 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf off limits to drillers. Obama's 2017-2022 plan would be replaced by the new program when it is finalized.

The effort to open previously off-limits acreage in the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific oceans comes less than eight years after BP Plc's Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico - the largest in American history. The disaster caused billions of dollars in economic damage and led the Obama administration to increase regulation of the industry.

The Defense Department has also raised concerns about opening drilling that had been banned off the eastern Gulf of Mexico, where military exercises are held. (Reporting by Eric Beech; Writing by Eric Walsh; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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