In a disappointing move, the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee gave its blessing for offshore drilling in Florida last week, potentially opening Florida’s coasts to oil and gas development.
This is a major reversal that reneges on the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006, which offered the oil and gas industry rights to 8.2 million acres in the eastern Gulf in exchange for the protection of coastal eastern Gulf waters. It also precluded drilling in the remainder of the Gulf Coast and the Florida Panhandle from 125 to 150 miles from shore.
This agreement was supposed to remain in place until 2022, but would be undone if this bill becomes law.
You should expect to hear the argument, again, that we need offshore drilling to keep gas prices down – that the state of the economy requires it. I wonder, then, how drilling hawks will respond if a spill devastates Florida’s beaches or reefs. According to a federal study, tourism contributes $40 billion to Florida’s economy each year and supports half a million jobs.
The U.S. Energy Information Agency has predicted that offshore drilling, even at peak production, will save consumers just pennies at the gas pump. And that’s assuming the gas even gets sold to Americans rather than China, India or any of the other increasingly energy-hungry countries in the world. Not to mention that it will take years for peak production to be realized and for any economic changes to be felt.
To open Florida’s shores to drilling sets us up to accept all the risks of oil and gas development without any of the promised benefits. Lower gas prices and energy security from offshore drilling are mirages at a time when fossil fuels are increasingly outdated – and with this news from Florida, your favorite beach could be the next one threatened by offshore drilling. You can bet the Oceana will continue to fight to protect our beaches and marine ecosystems from offshore drilling.
Andrew Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.