WASHINGTON, DC, July 17 -- Two days after US Senate Republican leaders announced an offshore leasing compromise for the Gulf Coast, New Jersey's senators said they would fight any effort to extend it to the Outer Continental Shelf off their state (OGJ Online, July 13, 2006).
Democrats Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez said jointly July 14 that they would place a hold on and filibuster OCS reform legislation that won House approval June 29 or any bill containing similar provisions. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) made a similar threat soon after the bill, HR 4761, cleared the House by a 232-187 vote.
It was not clear, however, if New Jersey's senators would take similar actions against S. 2253, which is focused entirely on the Gulf Coast and would not affect moratoriums and withdrawals off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.
In its revised form, it also would create a 125-mile buffer zone off Florida's coast and east of a military mission line in which no oil and gas activity would take place. Originally, the buffer zone extended 100 miles offshore.
HR 4761 would replace existing comprehensive bans with permanent ones up to 50 miles out, leasing 50-100 miles out unless a coastal state acted to block it, and leasing 100 miles and beyond unless a coastal state's legislature requested a ban every 5 years.
"Our shore is far too precious and important to allow oil-crazed speculators to set up shop along our coast," Menendez said.
Offshore leasing opponents are concerned that federal revenue-sharing provisions in HR 4761 might entice some coastal states into accepting oil and gas activity.
Virginia officials have expressed some interest, which concerns several of their New Jersey counterparts because the two states' federal Atlantic OCS tracts are separated only by Maryland and Delaware's much smaller areas.
Oil and gas activity off Virginia's coast potentially would be restricted by military uses, which would take priority.
Military activity also has been a major issue as Senate energy leaders pushed for leasing in an area off Florida's panhandle, which was offered as federal OCS Lease Sale 181 and withdrawn by President George W. Bush in 2001.
The Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a bill in early March that would order the Interior secretary to resume leasing in the Sale 181 area as well as initiate leasing farther offshore.
Chairman Pete V. Domenici delayed sending S. 2253 to the Senate floor because Nelson and Florida's other US senator, Republican Mel Martinez, objected that the original bill's 100-mile buffer zone was inadequate.
The July 12 compromise would add 25 miles in establishing the buffer zone through 2022. It also would coordinate oil and gas leasing with area offshore military activities by issuing no leases east of an agreed military mission line, also through 2022.
Domenici reached a compromise on June 29 with senators from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas who accepted a 37.5% share of future federal OCS revenues for their states, after originally demanding 50%, in exchange for their support of S. 2253.
While HR 4761's provisions differ, there had been speculation that federal oil and gas revenue-sharing or enactment of drilling bans for the Atlantic and Pacific coastal states might surface if S. 2253 made it to the Senate floor before the August recess, as Domenici hopes.
Lautenberg and Menendez's statement signaled that they would rather see such matters discussed later in a conference with the House than sooner in the Senate. It also suggests that S. 2253 may keep the Gulf Coast focus, which Domenici considers crucial to its passage by the full Senate.
Contact Nick Snow at [email protected].