Environmental Groups Gear Up Against Florida Drilling

Apr 24, 2018

Casino Beach
Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

Eight years ago Deepwater Horizon exploded off the coast of Louisiana, killing 11 and sending crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. A group of Pensacola-area environmentalists want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Christian Wagley with the Gulf Restoration Network, was among those speaking to the media Friday at Casino Beach on a picture-perfect day.

Christian Wagley of the Gulf Restoration Network.
Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

“And yet, despite the lessons we should have learned from the BP oil disaster, we have a number of proposals at the federal level that would actually make us more likely to have another BP-style oil disaster in the future,” said Wagley.

While there’s nothing that can be done about the oil rigs off Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas – the mission continues to keep them out of Florida waters with three main issues on the front burner. First, efforts by the feds to open up the entire U.S. coastline to drilling.

“There was a public comment period that ended in March; there was a public hearing in Tallahassee,” said Wagley. “The people of Florida at the political level and in the business community, they’ve all been nearly unanimous in their push against drilling, that we don’t want drilling here in Florida.”

Second – a number of oil well safety and control rules were implemented after Deepwater Horizon. Today, there are at least two proposals at the federal level to roll back those safeguards.

“And the third thing going on is just this past week, the Constitutional Revision Commission of Florida voted to put on the ballot to vote on in November, a constitutional amendment that would ban offshore oil and gas drilling in Florida state waters – three miles on the Atlantic coast, and nine miles on the Gulf of Mexico side.”

More than 200 million gallons of crude spewed out of the shattered oil rig over an 87-day period, the largest oil spill in U.S. history, eclipsing the Exxon-Valdez spill off Alaska in 1989.

“All of our beaches here were impacted; we referred to 2010 as ‘The Summer That Never Was,’” said J.J. Watters with the Surf Rider Foundation’s Emerald Coast Chapter, and a Santa Rosa Island resident.

Mike Penzone, Manager of the Fishing Pier at Casino Beach.
Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

“That year we never entered the water; we were afraid to fish, we were afraid to swim, to crab, to surf, to go kayaking, to do anything,” said Watters. “As a matter of fact, we were afraid to even eat the seafood in the local restaurants.”

“We had black oil and tar all over these beaches; it was horrific,” said Mike Penzone, Manager of the Fishing Pier at Casino Beach. He says in some instances, fishing is not yet all the way back, even after eight years.

“I’ve been out here since 2001; through those years, we went from catching 200 cobia, down to last year [when] we caught 12,” said Penzone. “This year so far we’re only halfway into the season we’ve caught four. So you can’t tell me that it’s not effecting our ecosystem.”

When the explosion and spill took place, Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson was chairing that panel. Eight years later, he remains involved in all things oil spill. The next step in fighting the rigs, he says, is voting on Amendment 9 sent out by the Constitutional Revision Commission.

Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

“I will be voting for that amendment, because I think matters not only for use today, for us tomorrow and for years to come that we pass that constitutional amendment,” Robinson said. “But that only protects the nine miles of state waters. We still have work to do at the federal level.”

Part of that work is lobbying in Washington to keep current protections in the eastern Gulf, where training and weapons testing is conducted by the Navy and Air Force. Protection must also come from the neighbors.

“I’ve worked well with our sister states, – Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, and I understand that what they do with their Gulf assets is slightly different than us,” said Robinson. “All I ask them to do is to make sure that we’re protected from what they do. If they’re going to do it, they need to make sure we don’t end up suffering the consequences.”

A new report from Gulf Restoration Network,“Our Healthy Gulf,” outlines ongoing spills and safety issues with current Gulf drilling operations was also released. Once again, the Network’s Christian Wagley.

“On average, there’s on fire every three days in the Gulf of Mexico,” Wagley read from the report. “On average, three workers die every year. There are 20 blowouts per every 1,000 new wells that are drilled. Obviously not as catastrophic as we saw in the Deepwater Horizon, but still it’s an inherently risky business.”

More details and the full report can be found at the Gulf Restoration Network’s website:  www.healthygulf.org.