Offshore drilling bill divides Northwest senators

WASHINGTON — Pacific Northwest senators are divided by party as the Senate prepares to vote on a bill to open a large area of the central Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling.

Democrats Ron Wyden of Oregon and Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington state oppose the bill, which would allow the Interior Department to begin offering oil and gas leases for 8.3 million acres off Florida’s coast. The area has been off limits to development largely because of concerns that drilling could jeopardize Florida’s world-famous beaches and lucrative tourist industry.