Senate Compromises On Gulf Drilling

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FLa., holds a map of the coast of Florida during a news conference Monday, June 26, 2006 in Coral Gables, Fla. Nelson said Monday that he would filibuster the offshore drilling bill if it comes to the Senate.
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
Senate Democrats and Republicans have agreed to a plan to open up certain Gulf offshore areas to drilling — some of them for the first time in 25 years, reports CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson. That would entail access to roughly 1.125 billion barrels of oil and 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The deal would limit new offshore development — outside the central and western Gulf of Mexico — to an area of the eastern Gulf known as Lease Area 181 and protect waters within 125 miles of the Florida coast.

To gain support from states that already allow offshore oil and gas development — Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama — it would substantially increase the royalty revenue that would be funneled to those states.

Attkisson said there were two big sticking points during the negotiations:

  • State revenue sharing: States want a significant piece of the action. Under this plan, they'll get 37.5 percent of revenues.
  • Florida: Florida wants no part of drilling anywhere near its tourist coast. It ended up getting the promise of a 125-mile barrier of protection.

    Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., who negotiated the compromise with GOP leaders, had insisted on the 125 mile-protection for Florida's shore.

    But Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said he's not yet convinced and held open the possibility he would filibuster the legislation, meaning supporters would have to get 60 votes to get it through.

    Nelson called the compromise "very promising" but said he was reserving judgment until he looks at the details. And he said he also wants some assurance that the delicate compromise would not be shattered in negotiations with the House, which has approved a much broader offshore drilling bill.

    Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., dismissed Nelson's reservations.

    "If he doesn't support it, we're gonna pass it anyway, you understand? He understands that too. If he doesn't, he'd better be ready. Because we have plenty of votes," Domenici said.

    The Senate will attach this plan to an unspecified bill in the near future; the House has already passed similar legislation.

    Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., praised the agreement, saying it will "help make America more energy independent and will help ease the burden on hard-working families who are feeling the pinch of high energy prices."