The Interior Department's plans to offer millions of acres of offshore oil leases in the 1990s, including vast tracts off Alaska, the central East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, is prompting quick criticism from environmentalists and some lawmakers.
The department on Thursday announced details of proposed oil and gas lease sales on the Outer Continental Shelf as part of its five-year offshore oil development program.The leasing plans are expected to meet resistance in Congress, where some members predict that attempts will be made to block sales in areas such as the central California coast.
Congress for years has blocked oil lease sales along vast stretches of coastline by prohibiting sales as part of the Interior Department's budget.
The leasing announcement came as President Bush's national energy plan, which relies heavily on new oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf and in Alaska, received an icy reception on Capitol Hill because of its limited focus on energy conservation.
Rep. Leon Panetta, D-Calif., said it was "good news" that the administration would continue to exclude some coastal areas - including much of southern and northern California - that were declared off-limits to oil companies by Bush last year.
"The bad news is he (Bush) is also sticking to his plan to lease half a million acres off southern and central California in 1996 and to lease other sensitive areas around the country," Panetta said in a statement.
The Interior Department's five-year leasing plan calls for opening 87 tracts, nearly 500,000 acres, along a stretch of California's coast from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obisbo.
In all, the government plans to sell 23 leases in 12 areas, covering 250 million acres, between 1992 and 1997. Some of the leases are as close as three miles from shore.
The department proposed the most aggressive lease sales off Alaska, where opposition to oil development has not been as intense.