Florida Dems seek moratoria on offshore oil exploration

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) is sponsoring the bill in the Senate, along with Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Rep Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) is a House co-sponsor, and other House members will back the bill by day’s end, an aide to Meek said.

The bill would specifically halt any new exploration, development and production in federal waters, including seismic tests.

Also, it says that exploration already underway should be suspended unless the Interior Department certifies that it doesn’t pose a “significant risk” if accident. Nelson’s office emphasized that the measure would not block current oil production.

The measure also suspends work on the Obama administration plan to open new areas for development in the 2012-2017 period.

The administration in late March announced plans for leasing in areas along the Atlantic Coast, which until 2008 was under a drilling moratorium, and wider leasing in Arctic waters.

As part of the plan, the administration is calling on Congress to shrink the no-drilling buffer in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, although it would keep rigs 125 miles from Florida’s Gulf shores.

President Barack Obama last week said that new offshore leases would not be issued until the Interior Department had conducted a 30-day review of new safeguards that may be needed. However, no lease sales are scheduled within that time frame anyway.

Interior also dispatched inspectors to deepwater exploration and production platforms after the spill.

Longer term, administration officials have acknowledged that the Gulf disaster will factor into their decision-making as they craft the specifics of the plan to expand leasing into new areas.