Gulf Coast energy reserves split Bush brothers

Published July 1, 2001

As President George W. Bush seeks to build support for increasing the nation’s energy supply through new drilling for oil and natural gas, brother Jeb Bush has sent the President a reminder that all politics are local.

While working closely with President Bush on a wide variety of issues, Florida Governor Jeb has rallied opposition to the President’s plan to open six million acres of ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico to oil and natural gas drilling.

The area in question—known as Lease 181—promises to be one of the most productive untapped oil and natural gas reserves in the nation. It sits closer to the gulf shores of Alabama and Mississippi than it does to Florida. Recognizing the potential economic benefits of local drilling, prominent gulf-coast lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) and Senator John Breaux (D-Louisiana), are urging the President to open up Lease 181 for drilling.

The Department of the Interior has concluded that with the use of modern technology, the chances of a spill in Lease 181 are very low. Moreover, according to the Department, any spill that may occur would have less than a one-in-three chance of impacting Florida’s coastline.

In Florida, however, Jeb Bush is sensitive to the state’s tourism industry and also hopes to avoid being labeled insensitive to the environment. Accordingly, the governor has gone to great lengths to lobby his brother’s administration to re-think plans to open Lease 181 to new drilling. The governor has personally pressed Interior Secretary Gale Norton to come up with other solutions to the nation’s energy supply shortage.

Democrats and liberal reports have made much of the Bush family’s ties to the oil industry during the past year. But Jeb Bush’s anti-oil stand suggests a willingness to oppose the industry, at least when reelection is thought to be at stake.