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In coastal states, a revival of offshore drilling debate

Some governors and lawmakers are fighting the Bush administration's push to expand drilling.

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The battle over oil and gas drilling in the US is heating up on a new front - or rather multiple fronts in coastal waters from Virginia to Florida to California to Alaska.

With war in an oil-rich part of the world, the effects of hurricane Katrina, and historically high prices at the gas pump, the Bush administration sees offshore oil and gas drilling as a key element in its push toward energy independence.

As with the debate over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, skeptics see the prospect as a potential pollution danger that would take years to produce what likely will be relatively insignificant amounts of oil and gas.

Officials in coastal states have mixed views on the subject, including whether to lift the present moratorium on offshore drilling along much of the US coast, which has been in place since 1981. With an eye toward potential royalties as well as environmental impact, many coastal state lawmakers and governors want to increase their control of such development.

The US Interior Department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) has proposed leasing areas offshore Virginia, the Gulf of Mexico, and Alaska for energy development. Oil and gas developers are happy with the proposal - as far as it goes. "It's a step in the right direction," says Mike Linn, chairman of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

"However, the majority of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) remains off- limits," he says, noting that some 90 percent of US waters have drilling bans - an area whose potential resources could replace Persian Gulf oil imports for several decades.

In its recent five-year leasing proposal, MMS estimates undiscovered resources to include 85.9 billion barrels of oil and 419.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas technically recoverable from all federal offshore areas.

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