Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bill's Call for Offshore Fuel Inventory Raises Environmental Hackles; Opponents Worry That Provision in U.S. Senate Energy Bill Will Lead to Full-Scale Drilling

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bill's Call for Offshore Fuel Inventory Raises Environmental Hackles; Opponents Worry That Provision in U.S. Senate Energy Bill Will Lead to Full-Scale Drilling

Article excerpt

Byline: TERRY DICKSON

BRUNSWICK -- The inclusion of an inventory of offshore oil and gas reserves in the U.S. Senate energy bill passed Tuesday has prompted concerns of damage to both environmentally sensitive areas and to Georgia's coastal tourism economy.

The broad energy bill includes $1 billion to use seismic explosions on the ocean floor to inventory oil and natural gas, even in protected areas. Florida's two senators, Republican Mel Martinez and Democrat Bill Nelson, tried to strip the inventory from the energy bill, but their amendment lost.

Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, both Georgia Republicans, voted with the majority to beat back the amendment, which would have prevented the inventory in areas where oil and gas exploration is under a long-running moratorium.

That moratorium, first enacted in 1981, bans exploration in all but the western Gulf of Mexico. President Bush extended the moratorium, but it is due to expire in 2012.

"This much needed inventory would provide important information on U.S. domestic energy supplies," Chambliss said. "Conducting this inventory will not change the existing moratorium on withdrawing these resources."

It would instead simply provide information that could be used to "assess all available options to reduce our dependency on foreign sources of oil," he said.

Sea Island Co., which hosted the G-8 Summit of President Bush and seven other world leaders a year ago, is "adamantly opposed" to any plans to conduct the inventory in highly sensitive coastal regions, said Bill Jones III, chief executive officer and chairman of the company.

The assurances of Chambliss and others notwithstanding, Jones said that the possibility of drilling for oil and gas spurred the inventory.

"While proponents of the project insist that it would not necessarily lead to drilling in these areas, it is only logical to conclude that drilling is the reason to do the inventory in the first place," Jones said. …

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