Special Reports

Buchanan calls for freeze on drilling permits

MANATEE — A local congressman said Thursday he has introduced legislation to impose an “iron-clad” moratorium on all deepwater drilling permits for both new and existing oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

Congressman Vern Buchanan, R-Florida, proposed legislation that would freeze permits until the cause of the explosion at the runaway Deepwater Horizon well is determined during a congressional investigation, he said.

In the weeks since the April fire and explosion at BP’s rig and well near Louisiana created a huge oil spill, federal regulators granted at least 19 environmental waivers for drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico, and at least 17 drilling permits for existing wells, most deepwater wells, Buchanan said.

“It is shocking and unacceptable that federal officials are still granting permits, even in the aftermath of this disaster,” said Buchanan, who lives on Longboat Key, and whose district covers several counties facing the Gulf.

“We need to stop issuing permits, new or otherwise, and focus on plugging the hole and cleaning up this environmental catastrophe,” he said.

President Obama announced Thursday an extension of a moratorium on permits to drill new deepwater wells.

Of the president’s action, Congresswoman Kathy Castor, D-Florida, said, “For all intents and purposes, bringing rigs closer to Florida’s beaches appears to be dead. The Deepwater Horizon disaster has confirmed my position that domestic drilling is too risky a proposition for our economy and our environment.”

She said she has filed the Florida Coastal Protection Act, which would permanently prohibit oil drilling, leasing, pre-leasing and any related activities off the Gulf Coast and the Florida Straits.

The current buffer of 235 miles off of Tampa Bay is effective through 2022, she said.