Oil Drilling a 'No Go' in Florida

Despite the fact that President Bush has deemed it a national security priority to develop domestic sources of oil and natural gas, the Bush administration has agreed not to conduct any drilling of sizable oil and gas reserves off Florida's coast.

The Interior Department has cut a deal to buy back nine of 11 leases around the so-called "Destin Dome" in the Gulf of Mexico.  The $115 million deal, paid out to oil companies including ChevronTexaco Corp., Conoco, Inc., and Murphy Oil Corp. among others, takes 2.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas off the development table.

Also off the table — oil reserves beneath the Florida Everglades.  The cost to purchase oil and gas exploration rights in the area will total $120 million to American taxpayers.

"Today's action once again demonstrates that my administration will take seriously the views of local communities. The federal government should continue to work closely with states and local communities in solving issues that affect energy security, the economy, and the environment," Bush said in a written statement.

The announcement came after a meeting between Bush, state environmental leaders, and the president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. 

Gov. Bush told assembled reporters that the decision not to drill is important to protect the "pristine beaches" of Florida. That is the same description used to describe the ecology in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, where the administration very much wants to drill.

Administration officials say the difference is that local communities in Alaska do want to begin drilling in the coastal area of ANWR because it would increase jobs and the economy in the area. 

While officials did not acknowledge so, Florida is also politically a more important state. Drilling off the coast of Florida would have been unpopular and could have doomed Jeb Bush's re-election efforts and potentially thrown Florida into the Democratic column in the 2004 presidential election.