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Commentary

Opinion: Florida Cannot Afford Another Deepwater Horizon Disaster

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When BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in April 2010, one of us was governor of Florida. The other was a sixth-generation Floridian about to dedicate his career to protecting this state’s environment. Both of us were horrified to learn that 11 Americans lost their lives because of an offshore drilling disaster, and for months after oil gushed unchecked into our precious Gulf of Mexico.

Six weeks after the initial explosion – June 4, 2010 – is another date etched into our memories. It is the day Panhandle beachgoers and swimmers lost their beaches to an unwelcome guest: dirty and dangerous oil. Tar balls began polluting Northwest Florida’s coast. The disaster’s impacts on the Gulf region ballooned, while BP repeatedly tried and failed to stop the oil for 87 days in total. Florida suffered long-term environmental and economic repercussions. Now, a decade later, the tragedy only reinforces something all Floridians can agree on: Offshore drilling cannot come any closer to our coast. Ignoring the lessons Florida learned from this tragedy, President Trump plans to open our state to future drilling and spilling. 

For those of us who live and work near Florida’s coast, we cannot forget the destruction that oily sludge brought to our environment. The 2010 blowout ultimately poured more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf. That oil killed tens of thousands of birds, sea turtles, dolphins and fish. Trillions of larval fish and invertebrates, as well as millions of oysters were killed – imperiling the future success of many Gulf fisheries.

Oil also devastated coastal salt marsh habitat. If we lose that habitat, we lose its many benefits. For example, coastal marshes act as an important buffer to storms and flooding, which protects nearby homes and communities. These marshes also provide important feeding and breeding grounds for many fish, crabs and birds. Wildlife cannot survive – let alone thrive – without the right habitat to grow and flourish. Vibrant and healthy ocean life is what makes Florida’s Gulf Coast such a special place for us, but oil pollution from offshore drilling is toxic and deadly, making it difficult for ocean animals to survive and reproduce. Neither of us can forget the images of Florida’s sea creatures coated in slicks that haunted our news streams for months on end.

When the environment is hurting, our coastal industries suffer, too. For a state like Florida – one almost entirely surrounded by warm waters and a beautiful shoreline – healthy coastal resources are essential to a productive economy. During the summer of 2010, Gulf beaches should have been thrumming with tourists. When oil soaked 1,300 miles of Gulf shoreline, beaches turned sticky with black tar and tourism came to a halt. More than 10 million user-days of beach, fishing and boating activity were lost because of closures following the spill. Coastal real estate values dropped, and the region felt a slump in house prices by as much as 8%. Consumers stopped trusting Gulf seafood and seafood industry sales declined by $950 million.

If we allow drilling to creep closer, we’re inviting more economic hardship to our beautiful beach towns. Before the coronavirus pandemic struck, recreation, tourism and fishing industries along Florida’s coasts supported nearly 610,000 jobs and generated roughly $37.4 billion in GDP. The expansion of offshore drilling threatens all of that. Our coastal communities need relief and support right now, not the unnecessary burdens that come with oil and gas development. 

Florida cannot afford another Deepwater Horizon disaster. This is the Sunshine State, after all. People come here to enjoy our weather, relax on our beaches, boat in our clear waters, see our diverse wildlife and eat the delicious bounty that comes from the waters in our backyard. We locals enjoy fishing and recreating in healthy Gulf waters, too. One of us has a duty in Congress to protect the coast that makes all these outdoor activities and ocean-dependent businesses possible. One of us has a daughter that should not have to grow up with oil rigs or spills on the horizon. We both know what to expect if drilling encroaches on the incredible place we are lucky to call home. We do not want to relive the environmental harm or community impact of a drilling disaster.

For now, much of the eastern Gulf of Mexico is protected by a moratorium on oil and gas leasing. But without action, that moratorium will expire in June 2022 – just two years from now. We cannot stand by and let it expire. Congress needs to maintain Florida’s current moratorium, ensuring that offshore oil and gas activities cannot get an inch closer to Florida and our protections become permanent.

Florida livelihoods, coastal communities and ocean resources depend on it. Let’s get a moratorium that’s permanent.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, represents Florida’s 13th District and was Florida’s 44th governor. Hunter Miller is the Florida Gulf Coast Campaign Organizer for Oceana, the largest non-profit dedicated solely to protecting the world’s oceans.