Dorgan, Obama at odds over oil drilling

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), chairman of a key Senate panel on energy development, is splitting with President Barack Obama over the proximity of oil drilling to U.S. coasts.

Dorgan, who heads the Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, is pushing for a 45-mile buffer zone between oil rigs and a coastline. Obama on March 31 announced he is allowing drilling from Delaware to Florida, plus parts of Alaska, and called on Congress to lift a drilling ban in the eastern Gulf of Mexico — specifically calling for a 125-mile buffer zone in the Gulf.

Dorgan said more oil can be gained by reducing that buffer zone to 45 miles. He acknowledged the disagreement but repeatedly praised Obama for his decision to allow drilling.

"The estimates are that the 125-mile (buffer) would get about two-thirds of the energy that is there. Those are estimates based on 30-year-old studies. I think a more appropriate one is 45 miles but you know, I commend the president for moving as he's moved and I would hope that we have an opportunity to consider even more," Dorgan said. "A 45-mile zone is a better approach because you get more energy out of that and you still have the proper safeguards for a visual line of sight and so on. But again, I think he's moved in the right direction and I commend him for that."

The eastern half of the Gulf of Mexico has long been under a congressional moratorium on drilling, and there are also restrictions near the state's Panhandle beaches because of their proximity to military bases.

Cross-posted from the Briefing Room