Lease plans hit snags in Florida
Raising the possibility of NASA-launched rockets crashing into offshore oil drilling rigs, Florida officials and environmentalists have asked that US waters off the state's coast be excluded from a five-year, South Atlantic lease sale slated for July 1983.
Some 33 million acres are up for energy exploration, and about one-third of the area is located in the direct flight path of rockets and missiles launched from Kennedy Space Center.
State and environmental officials testifying at a recent public hearing expressed concern pipeline construction, oil spills, and rocket-rig collisions could irreparably harm the state's fisheries, fragile coastal wetlands, endangered marine species, and the state's $17 million tourism industry.
Many who spoke against the leases warned that oil and gas exploration has never taken place before in waters as deep, or in the Gulf Stream currents as strong, as the ones in the proposed tract. They expressed concern over the lack of environmental impact statements.
Interior official Donald Truesdale said impact studies would take place duringm the exploration rather than beforem in order to expedite the normally lengthy leasing process. But when one asked whether a damaging impact report would stop drilling if oil was found during exploration, Mr. Truesdale admitted ''it would be tough to stop a running freight train.''
An Interior study estimates the 33 million-acre tract could contain 228 million barrels of oil and 860 billion cubic feet of natural gas.
In addition to eliminating the Florida-affected tract, options include postponing the lease until studies can be completed in 1985; removing 4 percent of the sale to protect coastal regions particularly sensitive, and removing the area in the flight path of the Kennedy-launched projectiles.
The Interior's own preliminary impact statement assesses most environmental damage as ''short-term'' and ''immediate,'' but also concludes that ''as oil and gas exploration . . . increases, so does the potential for and probability of adverse environmental impacts.''