Battle to protect Florida coast from offshore drilling continues
The fight to protect Florida’s Gulf Coast from offshore oil and gas drilling is far from over.
That was the update delivered on Oct. 28 during a presentation at the Sanibel and Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Business After Hours, held in partnership with the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and Oceana – an international advocacy organization focused on ocean conservation that is leading a national campaign to prevent the expansion of offshore oil drilling.
The event was held at The Dunes Golf & Tennis Club on Sanibel.
“Florida is still at risk,” Oceana Offshore Drilling Campaign Director Diane Hoskins said.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) develops the Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (National OCS Program) for oil and gas development. The program establishes a five-year schedule of oil and gas lease sales proposed for the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf, and BOEM currently is working under the approved 2017-2022 program.
In 2017, President Donald Trump issued Executive Order 13795 and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke issued Secretarial Order 3350. As a result, BOEM is in the process of developing a new National OCS Program for 2019-2024. If approved, the draft program will supersede the 2017-2022 program.
Hoskins reported that the draft proposes opening nearly all U.S. waters to offshore drilling.
More than 370 municipalities and over 2,200 elected local, state and federal officials have formally opposed offshore oil and gas drilling – plus seismic air gun blasting – including more than 270 on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Both Republicans and Democrats, governors on the East and West coasts have expressed concern or opposition to expanded oil and gas exploration, development and production off their coasts, according to Oceana.
“Political parties aside,” she said, “both aisles of coastal communities oppose offshore drilling.”
Oceana Florida Gulf Coast Campaign Organizer Hunter Miller pointed out that the Gulf Coast is particularity vulnerable to new drilling because of its proximity to existing infrastructure, refineries and pipelines. Other reasons are the industry has the most data on the area, it is a prime area for exploration with seismic air gun blasting and the oil industry is fairly confident there are significant reserves.
“The urgency is still there,” he said. “Florida’s Gulf Coast is not safe.”
As for good news, Miller also highlighted bipartisan efforts to prevent the expansion of offshore drilling, as well as pointed out the approval of Florida Constitutional Amendment 9. During the 2018 election, voters supported banning offshore drilling for oil and natural gas off of the state’s coast.
He added that the Florida Defense Support Task Force, along with the Department of Defense and NASA, have expressed concerns about offshore oil and gas development impacting activities.
According to Oceana, the eastern Gulf of Mexico has a history of providing unconstrained access for military training and testing activities for U.S. national security. In 2006, Congress enacted the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) to protect the section of the Gulf from any offshore oil and gas development. All waters east of the Military Mission Line (MML) are off limits to offshore drilling.
The moratorium is set to expire in 2022.
“The Task Force recommends that Florida maintain a united front in supporting an extension of the current moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico east of the Military Mission Line (MML),” the Florida Defense Support Task Force said in a 2017 report. “To allow drilling east of the MML would mean loss of range areas and possible relocation of aircraft/bases to other unrestricted range areas.”
Defense is Florida’s fourth largest industry – an economic footprint of about $78.9 billion – and in northwest Florida, 65 percent of the regional economy is considerably dependent on unconstrained access to eastern Gulf of Mexico airspace and sea space, according to Oceana. Florida’s defense and military industries host 20 major military installations in the state and account for nearly 775,000 jobs.
The area east of the MML is the largest over-water DOD training area in the continental U.S., with about 101,000 square miles of uninterrupted surface and airspace. The Gulf Range Complex is larger than all the other training ranges in the continental U.S. combined, and it is the best one that replicates conditions for overseas military operations in the Northern Arabian Gulf and Indo-Pacific theater.
As for what actions to take to help protect Florida’s coast, a few suggestions were offered.
In January, U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney introduced HR 205 – Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act – which would permanently extend the moratorium for the Gulf Coast. The bill passed the House on Sept. 11 in 248 votes, with 26 out of Florida’s 27 members voting in favor. Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, with offices in Gainesville-Ocala-Orange Park-Palatka, voted against it.
“While I am encouraged that we are making strides, the battle is not over,” Rooney said in a letter prepared for the event and read aloud. “I am hopeful that our Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott are successful in advancing this critical legislation to passage in their chamber and signed into law by the President.”
As of Oct. 29, the bill remained under review in the U.S. Senate. On Sept. 12, it was received by the chamber and read twice, then referred to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
“It’s time to let our senators know that this is important,” Miller said.
He encouraged all businesses that rely on tourism dollars to reach out to their representatives.
Robin Miller, president of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce and chair of the Florida Gulf Coast Business Coalition, echoed that. Launched last year, the coalition is a group of businesses and industries that are committed to protecting the coast from the devastation of offshore drilling.
“It’s their turn to stand up for Florida,” she said of the state’s elected officials.
Robin Miller also urged entities to join the coalition.
“If anything impacts tourism, it impacts all of us,” she said.
Sanibel residents CJ Stephens and Elaine Parentz attended the event.
“I think there’s a lot to be done,” Parentz said, adding that the presentation helped to familiarize her with the organizations involved on the campaign. “It was good to learn the names and faces.”
She also learned about the coalition, which she plans to share with local businesses.
Stephens echoed Parentz’s sentiment on the road ahead.
“We have a ton of work to do,” she said. “Everybody needs to get on board.”