Eastern Lease Sale 181 Scheduled for This Week

In a sale that was limited under a compromise between the White House and Florida, the U.S. government this week is selling petroleum drilling leases off Florida's Gulf Coast for the first time in more than a decade. The Minerals Management Service will lease tracts for oil and gas exploration in a 1.5 million-acre (600,000-hectare) area Wednesday. That's a reduction from the 5.9 million acres initially proposed.

After the president made his proposal, environmentalists and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, fought to block the drilling. The original lease area came as close as 17 miles to Pensacola in Florida's Panhandle, raising concern about potential damage an oil spill could cause to the state's tourist beaches. The area being offered on Wednesday is at least 100 miles from Florida, Alabama and Mississippi beaches, and the eastern edge is 285 miles from Tampa Bay. Officials estimate the acreage being offered this week contains at least 185 million barrels of oil and 1.25 trillion cubic feet (35 million cubic meters) of natural gas.