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Senate looks to shrink no-drilling zones protections


Offshore oil and gas rigs could move dramatically closer to Florida's coastline -- nearly within sight of pristine Panhandle beaches -- under a provision approved Tuesday by a key Senate panel.

The amendment, tacked onto a massive energy bill in Congress, would renege on a compromise won by Florida lawmakers just three years ago and radically reduce no-drilling zones in the eastern Gulf of Mexico -- from 125 miles down to 10 miles off the Panhandle and from 235 miles down to 45 miles off Tampa and coastal communities to the south.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., vowed to fight the move with a filibuster if necessary.

''We're just simply not going to let this happen,'' Nelson told reporters after the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed a provision proposed by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

Environmentalists said the move would break the 2006 deal crafted by Florida's congressional delegation, which agreed to open about 8 million acres of the east-central Gulf to oil and gas development in exchange for putting a massive swath of federal waters closer to the state off-limits until at least 2022.

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