Despite repeated assurances that Florida waters will be exempt from a White House plan to expand oil and gas, proponents of drilling off the state’s coastline aren’t giving up.
“Explore Offshore” is a multi-state coalition that’s been formed by the Washington-based American Petroleum Institute. Its aim is to support the Trump administration’s plan to open parts of the now-protected Atlantic Ocean and eastern Gulf of Mexico.
“Cooperative efforts to coexist and produce our much-needed natural product from that area can and hopefully will be done,” said David Mica, Executive Director of the Florida Petroleum Council. “Explore Offshore” is targeting state waters; the moratorium on drilling off Florida until 2022 covers federal waters.
“We’re going to be depending on a smart electorate here; Floridians need to recognize the difference here between the state’s waters and the federal waters,” said Mica.
One related issue is Constitution Revision Commission Amendment-6, which would ban drilling off Florida’s coast.
“It will be a question of supporting American energy; American jobs, and national security,” Mica said. “Cast in the middle of that is the genuine concern about our precious natural resources and our important tourism industry.”
Mica is a long-time believer that a balance can be achieved between drilling and the military, despite the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 which killed 11 people and spewed oil into the Gulf for 87 days.
“Technology’s changed quite a bit; lessons were learned, technologies have improved,” said Mica. “And we’re probably safer now offshore – not probably, we are safer now offshore technologically in the production of oil and gas than ever in the history of man.”
“We can’t stand it, if we had another oil spill that would do to us what the last one did – blacken the sugary white sands of Pensacola Beach; Destin Beach, and tar balls as far east as Panama City Beach,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who filed legislation earlier this year that would extend the current moratorium to 2027 – preventing the Trump administration from opening up any new areas closer to Florida’s coastline.
“That area of the Gulf off of Florida is the largest testing and training area for the United States military in the world,” Nelson said from the Senate floor last month. He added that extending the moratorium is also a matter of national defense.
“Two previous secretaries of defense in Republican administrations – including Sec. [Donald] Rumsfeld – have written letters that any oil-related activity in that testing and training range – would be incompatible with the testing and training of the U.S. military.”
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke came to Tallahassee in January to announce there would be no drilling off the Florida coast. But the Trump administration’s stance has not been formalized and continues to draw questions from Nelson and others.
“Just recently, a bi-partisan delegation – a majority of the members of the Florida [Congressional] delegation – signed a letter to the Department of the Interior and the Department of Defense – requesting the extension of this moratorium in law,” Nelson said.
Nelson equates the petroleum industry’s new coalition with lingering skepticism over Zinke’s assurances that waters off the Florida coast would be exempt.
Appearing on CNBC last month, Zinke said oil and gas produced in America can be used as diplomatic influence.
“Having the ability to supplant every drop of Iranian crude, [and] make sure that we don’t disrupt world markets,” said Zinke. “The United States has a capacity to use energy in that leverage to help on diplomacy.”
The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is expected to release a draft report on the offshore proposal before year’s end. That will kick off a second round of public hearings.