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Industry talks up Florida oil and gas potential

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Feb. 9 (UPI) — Industry supporters in Florida kicked back against opposition to offshore drilling, saying the state has emerging opportunities to capitalize on U.S. momentum.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a division of the Interior Department, is holding state hearings on a proposed five-year lease plan that would open nearly all of the U.S. territorial waters to oil and gas drillers.

Florida Petroleum Council Executive Director David Mica said putting Florida on the map could bring in new sources of revenue and create a new economic segment.

“The Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf has not been surveyed in more than thirty years, and with rapid advancements in safety and assessment technologies in the past decade, we can safely and accurately determine what energy potential exists off our coasts,” he added in a statement.

The proposed program, opened for public comment, called for 19 lease sales offshore Alaska, seven in the Pacific Region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico and nine in the Atlantic.

Florida is at the heart of the debate over President Donald Trump‘s offshore energy agenda. In January, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told Florida Gov. Rick Scott his state was removed from drilling consideration, but Walter Cruickshank, the acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, later testified that wasn’t the case.

There’s been no official comment from Scott since Cruickshank clarified offshore plans. Several coastal governors have raised objections to the proposal and, this week, California moved ahead of the federal government by calling for a ban on sending oil from offshore rigs to state land.

Florida drilling proposals have been met with bipartisan opposition from state Sens. Marco Rubio, a Republican, and Bill Nelson, a Democrat. Rubio in early January asked Zinke “to recognize the Florida Congressional delegation’s bipartisan efforts to maintain and extend the moratorium in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, and remove this area for future planning purposes.”