Dec. 13 (UPI) -- Moving ahead of word of a U.S. offshore drilling program for the Atlantic, a Florida Democrat called on his colleagues to pass legislation to block access.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., called on his Senate colleagues to move on a bill he tabled earlier this year that would prohibit oil and gas drilling in the U.S. waters of the Atlantic until at least 2022. His office said his call came amid reports that the White House under U.S. President Donald Trump was putting the Atlantic Ocean in a new five-year lease plan. The U.S. Interior Department under Trump would open drilling in 2019 by replacing the current five-year plan, which would expire in 2022.
"The Trump administration is about to give a huge early Christmas present to the oil industry," Nelson said in remarks emailed to UPI late Tuesday.
Opposition to Atlantic drilling extends beyond legislators. The Defense Department earlier this year sent at a letter to U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, D-Fla., that expressed concern about executive action from the president that could open up more offshore areas for drilling. The Pentagon also told the previous administration there may be areas of potential oil and gas work in the Atlantic that may not be compatible with defense operations and interests.
Nelson's office said Atlantic drilling could be opened in maritime acreage stretching from Maine to Cape Canaveral off the Florida coast, an area that would include military testing grounds. For Cape Canaveral, and with the Trump administration suggesting a lunar landing was under consideration, Nelson said oil and gas drilling could create conflicts of interest.
"All of those rockets are coming out of Cape Canaveral, and they have first stages," he said. "And when the first stages burn out, they have to fall someplace. You can't have oil and gas production out here."
Trump's administration issued a draft for public comment in the federal registry in June for seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean, a practice used to get a better understanding of the reserve potential in a particular basin.
The National Ocean Industries Association, an industry trade group, estimates the Atlantic holds about 4.7 billion barrels of oil and 37.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, though those estimates are based on seismic surveys from more than 30 years ago.
Nelson's call came after his Republican counterpart from Alaska, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, inserted language in the GOP-led effort to overhaul the U.S. tax code that would open more acreage in her state to oil and gas drillers. Last week, the Interior Department put 900 tracts covering 16,100 square miles in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska on the auction block, but received bids for only seven.
Industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute have praised executive orders from the president that favor the oil and gas industry