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Thursday, 19 April, 2001, 12:43 GMT 13:43 UK
Bush brothers clash over oil
Brothers George (left) and Jeb Bush
Jeb Bush helped secure his brother's Florida victory
US President George Bush has clashed with his younger brother Jeb, the Governor of Florida, over plans to allow oil and gas exploration in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

President Bush's Interior Secretary, Gale Norton, has rejected a plea from Jeb Bush to cancel a planned auction of oil and gas leases in the area.


There is probably now more unanimity among Floridians on this issue than ever before

Governor Jeb Bush

Many senior officials in the Bush administration, including the president himself, have strong ties to the oil industry.

But the Florida governor has voiced concerns that if drilling goes ahead in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, it could harm the state's environment and image as a vacation paradise.

Advising Jeb Bush that the lease auction would go ahead, Ms Norton left open the possibility that the number of leases and their locations might be changed to ease some of his misgivings.

US energy needs

"I must consider our nation's energy needs and appropriate management of the American public's natural resources," she said in a letter.

The proposed lease area is believed to hold large quantities of natural gas and oil.

Oil rig
Many Floridians oppose drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico

"It can play an important role in our national energy strategy," the letter said.

Relations between the two brothers were strained by George Bush's close - and fiercely contested - margin of victory in Florida during the presidential election.

The lease sale is scheduled for December and would be the first such auction since 1988.

The governor, who is seeking re-election, on Wednesday renewed his plea not to extend offshore oil and gas drilling to the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

"Once development crosses into the Eastern Gulf and pipeline infrastructure is installed there will be little incentive to not expand production," he said. "Further encroachment toward our beaches will become inevitable."

He said there was widespread opposition in Florida to drilling anywhere in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Moratorium

The blocks up for sale are more than 160 kilometres (100 miles) offshore.

Most of the Eastern Gulf is closed to oil and gas exploration under a moratorium imposed by former President George Bush and extended until 2012 by former President Bill Clinton.

Oil and gas rigs are already scattered across the waters of the western and central Gulf of Mexico.

The US Government estimates that the lease area being considered for auction holds 370 million barrels of oil and as much as 3.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Some industry estimates have been even higher.

Americans consume about 19 million barrels of oil and six billion cubic feet of natural gas a day.

The Bush administration has already made it clear that it would be interested in opening up oil exploration in Alaska - a move opposed by environmental groups.

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