Drilling Plan Rules out Exploration off Alaska, New England

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON - The Interior Department sent a five-year offshore drilling plan to Congress Monday that rules out exploration in additional areas off Alaska and New England.

However, requests from Florida that the Florida Keys be exempt were turned down.

The plan drops a provision that would have permitted the secretary to accelerate any planned lease sale, ``after consideration of the comments which expressed opposition to this provision by a variety of parties.''

It makes only minor changes in the controversial provisions for California, adding new off-limits areas around some islands near shore.

It retains the slowed-down leasing schedule of previous drafts, cutting lease offerings in planning areas outside the Gulf of Mexico from one every two years to one every three years.

This means there will be 38 lease sales between mid-1987 and mid-1992, 24 of which are regular sales, including 10 in the Gulf of Mexico. Another 11 are ``frontier'' sales in the Atlantic and off Alaska that can be delayed, and three are sales of tracts, if any, where bids were rejected.

The department's plan, two years in the drafting, takes effect in 60 days if Congress does not change it. Opponents of drilling off California are trying to ban the use of appropriations for that activity, which they have succeeded in doing in some past years.

Federal waters offshore, together with a wildlife refuge in Alaska, ``are the foundation of America's energy future,'' Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel said in a statement.

The two prospects ``offer the greatest promise for the discovery of large domestic oil and gas fields,'' he said.

The department's best estimate for oil and gas reserves offshore that remain to be discovered is the equivalent of 29 billion barrels of oil, about as large as the proven reserves of the United States both onshore and offshore.

Areas removed from consideration for leasing bring the oil and gas that could be leased under the plan to about 17 billion barrels, which would be a little less than three year's usage at current rates.

Offshore exploration so far has found little oil outside the Gulf of Mexico, which has heightened industry interest in California waters - much of which has been off limits in previous years.

In the Atlantic north of Key Largo off Florida, a buffer zone of 15 to 30 nautical miles is incorporated seaward of the boundary between federal and state waters. …