Large Swaths of Gulf To Be Opened to Oil Drilling

TAMPA -

Rising fuel prices and a couple of tough hurricane seasons that disrupted drilling operations helped clear the way for passage of the bill that opens more than 8 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico to energy exploration.

Florida's Republican Sen. Mel Martinez says the bill will protect Florida's interests in the long run.

MARTINEZ: It protects Florida by providing a buffer that is more than 120 miles south of the Panhandle but as much as 247 miles west of Tampa Bay area.

But some environmentalists are not buying that idea. Environment Florida director Mark Ferrullo says just because the oil rigs can't be seen, it doesn't mean their effects won't be felt.

FERULLO: The process of looking for oil and the seismic explosions and testing they use will harm the dolphins and whales and marine life that we enjoy along our coast. The pollution that's generated from these rigs will be carried in currents to our coasts.

President Bush is expected to sign the bill.

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