A national coalition with deep Florida ties brought its message of supporting offshore oil and natural-gas “exploration” to Tallahassee on Wednesday, as pushback continues against a Trump administration plan that could lead to expanded drilling off the country’s coasts.
Dubbed “Explore Offshore,” the coalition is backed by the American Petroleum Institute and the Florida Petroleum Council and held its first Florida event to promote access to offshore natural gas.
David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, said the coalition is aimed at giving a voice to “unheard” supporters who view domestic energy production as a job creator and a national security issue. Also, he said the coalition aims to “provide a more favorable public opinion of what we try to do to bring us the energy resources we need.”
Former Florida Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, a co-chairman of the coalition, said the group’s effort shouldn’t be seen as a return to a 2008 Republican campaign slogan that two years later became an embarrassment following the deadly Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“We are not talking today, by the way, about ‘drill baby drill.’ We’re talking about ‘explore baby explore,’ ” Kottkamp said. “Let’s find out what energy resources we have off the coast of Florida.”
The BP spill may not have directly impacted Florida as severely as other Gulf Coast states, but financial damage was inflicted across the state’s tourism and real-estate industries.
Environmentalists and politicians continue to recount the disaster’s impact, particularly on the Florida Panhandle’s economy, as they express opposition to the White House proposal to open previously protected parts of the Atlantic Ocean and eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling.
When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced offshore drilling plans in January, he flew to Tallahassee to announce that Florida would be exempt.
Zinke’s statement has been seen as a political favor to Gov. Rick Scott’s U.S. Senate campaign, and no formal announcement has been made since that time on where drilling may or may not occur.
Scott and members of Florida’s congressional delegation from both sides of the political aisle have denounced the possibility of opening to drilling nearly all of the outer continental shelf off the state --- a jurisdictional term describing submerged lands 10.36 statutory miles off Florida's west coast and 3 nautical miles off the east coast.
Jim Nicholson, an Explore Offshore co-chairman and former secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said many of the concerns about offshore drilling are misplaced.
“There is little to no chance of this exploration being visible from the coastal lands, and the miracle of new science and technology has made the chances of a disastrous accident like that of the BP Deepwater Horizon in 2010 nearly impossible,” Nicholson said during a news conference at the Florida Press Center.
Mica later noted that due to technological advances since 2010, “we’re at a safer point than we’ve ever been.” Still, he said there are no guarantees that another oil rig blowout will never occur.
“I think there are some of us who would like an absolute guarantee. I’ll be transparent with you: There are no absolute guarantees in the activities of mankind,” Mica said. “But we must try to improve our technologies with the very best and brightest. And Florida is producing many of them.”
Such assurances fail to sway groups such as Earthjustice, which has filed lawsuits over the Trump administration’s plan to open more of the Gulf of Mexico to leases for offshore drilling.
“That is the problem, there are no guarantees,” said Bradley Marshall, an attorney for Earthjustice in Tallahassee. “You could have another catastrophic spill that could threaten Florida’s economy, its ecology and environment, and the Gulf of Mexico too, which is home to many endangered and threatened species.”
Instead, Marshall said a wiser use of energy-exploration money would be alternative sources.
“The only reason you would explore is if you were looking to extract at some point in the future. That’s why you explore,” Marshall said. “We should be investing money in developing renewables. We know where renewables are. Solar technology has come down remarkably (in cost). Battery technology, that price keeps decreasing, they’re becoming more efficient, more compact. That’s where the future lies, not in fossil fuels from the Gulf.”