Florida's Role In Offshore Drilling Proposal Still Undecided

Feb 12, 2018

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson during a visit to Pensacola.
Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

Supporters and opponents of oil drilling closer to Florida’s shoreline refused Thursday to accept U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s declaration that the state wouldn’t be part of a White House plan to expand exploration.

Last Thursday’s hearing in Tallahassee, sponsored by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, is one of 22 being held through March 8 nationwide and was the lone such meeting to be held in Florida.

““I don’t want your kids ever to fight on foreign shores for a resource we have here,” said Zinke last month in Tallahassee.  

Zinke flew to Tallahassee International Airport on January 9, and after a brief meeting with Governor Rick Scott, announced that Florida waters were removed from plans to open previously sheltered parts of the Atlantic Ocean and the eastern Gulf of Mexico to offshore oil and gas drilling.

“There’s [sic] places where resources are sensitive; and there’s places where we’re not going to go forward with resources. And one of them is off the coast of Florida,” Zinke said.

But some are skeptical of Zinke’s stance on a Florida exemption, believing that he’s not reached a final decision. Among them is Barney Bishop, a lobbyist who supports offshore drilling.

“Why are the environmentalists here? Why are they raising hell about this issue if no means no? It’s because, you know what, no is never no,” said Bishop. “You all don’t know about the discussions that are being held in private. No, publicly, can mean a whole lot of things in private.”

Opponents, including Ian MacDonald, an oceanography professor at Florida State University, are concerned about the potential dangers of a future spill similar to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

“Our well-being throughout the state of Florida is inextricably tied to a healthy Gulf of Mexico,” said MacDonald. I’m talking about not just our economic well-being, but the well-being of our children and the health of our families.”

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson took to the Senate floor once again on Tuesday to talk about what he calls “the mess” created by the five-year drilling plan.

“One of the reasons that I talked about it so much beyond the fact that it is so disastrous and dangerous,” said Nelson. “Especially not only for all the coastal states, but our state of Florida that has more beaches than any other state, that is surrounded by test range.”

Nelson pointed to last week’s launch of the firm SpaceX’s Falcon rocket, the largest since the Apollo program’s Saturn-5 that carried men to the moon two of the boosters landed back a Cape Canaveral and didn’t fall into the Atlantic.

“But some may,” Nelson said. “And you simply cannot have oil rigs out there in the Atlantic where we are testing our military rockets and where such as today, a commercial rocket, a falcon heavy, has dropped its initial stages. The same thing with the military on the west coast.

The announcement, hailed by Scott and environmentalists, has drawn questions about whether the quick decision was made to further Scott’s political career. He is said to be planning a run against Bill Nelson, who said Floridians deserve better.

Now it was an obvious, transparent, political stunt,” Nelson told the Senate. “Five-year plans aren't supposed to be a goody bag of political favors and they can't be undone by the secretary's press conference or a tweet.”

And it’s not just Florida. Governors in some other coastal states have made their own inquiries about getting exemptions from the White House plan. A draft report is expected by the end of the year, which will be followed with another round of public hearings.