Oil Drilling Meetings Start Along Gulf Coast

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PANAMA CITY - The Federal Government is considering a plan to lease more areas of the Gulf for oil and natural gas exploration.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management kicked of a series of meetings Tuesday in Panama City, to solicit the public's comment on planned leases in two areas of the Gulf.

One is in the Eastern Planning Area off Florida's coastline.

The other is in the Central Planning Area from Eastern Alabama to Eastern Texas.

If the proposal is approved, the government will lease the areas to companies wanting to explore for oil or natural gas.

The closest lease is at least 150-miles from Panama City.

Gary Goeke from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said, "We've been drilling the Gulf of Mexico for 45-50 years and this is part of continuing process that has lead to the large amounts of hydro-carbons, oils, and gases that are created from the gulf that has helped pushed us to the leader in oil and gas development."

Bureau officials will hold more meetings this week in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana to come up with a draft environmental impact study.

Then they'll schedule a second round of meetings.

It could be 5 years before the government grants any leases.