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
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
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. …