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Tallahassee to Washington: No Drilling in Eastern Gulf

U.S. Air Force

Resolutions are being introduced in both houses of the Florida Legislature, aimed at keeping the eastern Gulf of Mexico open for military training.

At issue is a long-time moratorium against oil drilling in that part of the Gulf. State Sen. Doug Broxson (R-Gulf Breeze) is the sponsor of Senate Resolution 550. He says there’s pressure from big oil to open up the area.

“We know that off the Port of Pensacola is what they call the ‘Destin Dome,’” says Broxson. “They think [there are] about 20 trillion of cubic feet of natural gas, so it’s considered one of the most productive parts of the Gulf. But it doesn’t compare with what our commitment to the military is.”

To that end, Broxson says they want to send an “undivided message” to Congress, that Florida is “100 percent” in protecting the state’s military mission.

Credit Florida Senate
State Sen. Doug Broxson (R-Gulf Breeze)

“There’s no place in the world where they have that kind of latitude to move not only the equipment – the F-35 [aircraft] and the weaponry,” Broxson says. “But it goes all the way from really Pensacola, down to Key West.”

The eastern Gulf has been a military testing and training site since the end of World War II, and even more so since the loss of the Vieques testing site off Puerto Rico, which was closed in 2003.

“The argument of keeping our national security tested and trained in the most sophisticated weapons and training for the best military in the world,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Nelson was speaking on the floor of the Senate last year, against legislation which would have given states along the Gulf Coast and south Atlantic a greater share of royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling.

Nelson told his colleagues that there’s a reason there are no oil rigs in that area, pointed to a couple of installations on the Florida Panhandle.

“Tyndall Air Force Base – that’s where they are training their pilots for the F-22 [fighter],” said Nelson. “At Eglin Air Force Base, about half of the United States Air Force and the other services are training their pilots for the F-35, to be the workhorse of our fighters.”

The measure failed to make it to the Senate floor for a vote last November. With Nelson already leading the charge in Congress, State Sen. Doug Broxson expects the other members of Florida’s congressional delegation to hop aboard.

“I think all of our congressmen, including [1st District Rep. Matt] Gaetz, will be behind it,” Broxson said. “[U.S. Sen. Marco] Rubio will, I believe Governor [Rick Scott] will sign the proclamation for should be a no-brainer for all of us.”

Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) visits the University of West Florida earlier this year.

Besides the main message of keeping the military mission intact in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, the SR-550 also could provide an indirect boost to developing alternative fuel sources. But Broxson says that’s coming through market forces, rather than the armed forces.

“Gulf Power has already teamed up with Eglin, using open space,” said Broxson. “We’re getting better, a lot better than we were ten years ago. Florida was never considered to be – although we’re the Sunshine State – a great solar state. That’s changing with technology.”

State Rep. Mel Ponder (R-Destin), is sponsoring a companion bill – HR319 – in the House.