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Florida News

Opponents Warn Offshore-Drilling Announcement is Sign of What's to Come

TALLAHASSEE, FL – The Interior Department announced plans late Friday to hold the largest sale of oil and gas leases in U.S. history. 

The plans include auctioning off more than 77 million acres of offshore waters to drilling, covering coastal areas of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas - as well as parts of the Florida Gulf Coast. It excludes areas protected under a 2006 congressional moratorium, which bans drilling within 125 miles of the Florida coast until 2022. 

But Holly Parker, Florida regional manager with the Surfrider Foundation, said the announcement proves the Trump administration's willingness to allow drilling anywhere it can. 

"I think it does demonstrate the need to protect Florida permanently from oil and gas exploration," Parker said. "It's clear that this administration's energy policy is drilling everywhere and anywhere, regardless of environment and impact in coastal communities."

Gov. Rick Scott struck a deal with the Trump administration to exclude Florida from any near-shore drilling plans, but many question whether the deal will hold. 

The auction is scheduled for March 21.

The Interior Department said the plan will include all available, unleased areas in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, including a small slice of Florida. Parker argued the current 125-mile ban off the Florida coast isn't sufficient to protect the state.

"Folks that remember the Deepwater Horizon know that that was over 150 miles away," she said. "So, just because there is oil and gas exploration that isn't in Florida waters doesn't mean that that doesn't have a potential impact on us."

Interior Department officials say advancements in technology and strict safety standards will make drilling more safe. They also say a strong offshore energy program supports tens of thousands of well-paid jobs and provides reliable energy. 

The public can weigh in on possible lease sales on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management website.

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