Senate bill retains Lease 181 lease sale, ban on monument drilling


By the OGJ Online Staff

WASHINGTON, DC, July 13 -- The US Senate late Thursday passed a spending bill that blocks new energy leases in designated national monuments but retains a controversial lease sale in the eastern Gulf of Mexico scheduled for this December.

Also included in the Interior Appropriations bill is expanded federal funding for oil and gas research programs and a continuation of the decades-old ban against drilling on most of the federal offshore, excluding the central and western Gulf of Mexico and parts of Alaska.

The House version of the bill also includes the offshore drilling ban, a new ban on national monument drilling, and more oil research funds. But it also would postpone the eastern Gulf of Mexico sale, Lease Sale 181, and block drilling in the Great Lakes.

Late last month, the White House said it opposed the Sale 181 ban, the Great Lakes language, and other restrictions to drilling. It also did not support a House provision that symbolically sought to block further construction of the Gulfstream gas pipeline from Alabama to Florida (OGJ Online, June 28, 2001).

Since that House vote, however, the White House sought to compromise with Florida officials by dramatically cutting the acreage in Sale 181 (OGJ Online, July 2, 2001).

Senate supporters of the lease sale predicted that after a conference with House lawmakers, Congress would send President George W. Bush a final bill that included an eastern gulf sale. But it was unclear if the sale would include tracts disputed by the Florida delegation, which the Bush administration has put off limits.

Many other draft amendments that were under discussion did not make it into the Senate version as party leaders sought to limit debate. A controversial proposal by Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alas.) that would ban oil companies from buying Iraqi crude under the United Nations oil-for-aid program will now be considered as a stand-alone bill, a spokesman said.

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