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Ten oil companies paid the government $108 million for drilling rights offshore Florida in 1984 and 1985. Two, Mobil and Unocal, have proposed drilling wells there. But they may have to settle for getting their money back.

Unocal wants to test a geologic structure that could contain 1 billion barrels of oil and 10 trillion cubic feet of gas. The oil industry believes that that general area of the outer continental shelf contains 2.5 billion bbl. of oil and 25 Tcf of gas, equal to 8,250 Mega Borg-loads of oil.

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But the state challenged the drilling plans as inconsistent with its coastal zone management plan. Congress added a moratorium on any further oil activity there. And President Bush delayed things while a task force could study the merits of drilling vs. the risk to the environment.

Comments by the president have caused speculation that he will put the Florida acreage forever off limits to drilling. Congress's moratorium expires in September but may be renewed. The state disputes have been appealed to the Commerce Department. Final briefs were filed June 8. A Commerce official expects the department not to rule before Mr. Bush's decision.

Whether or not the wells are ever drilled, Florida's waters won't be safe from oil. Existing tanker traffic alone gives this part of Florida's coast a 96 percent chance of experiencing a minimum 10,000-barrel oil spill over the next 30 years, a Bush administration official has predicted.

``More and more tankers are coming to the United States because [oil exploration] opportunities here are being hindered,'' says Mike Kimmitt, a spokesman for Mobil Exploration and Producing in Dallas.

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