Palm Beach Post: Oceana tallies Florida's marine economy as congressional committee offers offshore oil drilling ba

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Washington, September 2, 2021 | comments
“Florida’s ecological diversity and economy must never be put at risk by dirty and dangerous drilling activities,” Wasserman Schultz said.
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Palm Beach Post

On the heels of congressional efforts to make permanent a ban on coastal drilling for oil, a global marine conservation group issued a report Wednesday tallying up just how much Florida has at stake if a toxic spill should happen.

Namely, a $43 billion marine economy supporting almost 700,000 jobs, according to the report released Wednesday by Oceana, which advocates for marine biodiversity and "scientific fishery management."

"With more coastline than any other state in the continental United States, healthy and thriving coastal resources provide livelihoods for hundreds of thousands of Floridians," the report stated.

Catherine Uden, Oceana's South Florida field representative, said the report was aimed at President Joe Biden and Congress.

"We are asking them to pass this budget reconciliation bill that would include permanent offshore drilling protections," she said.

Several efforts under way to prevent or ban new offshore drilling
That effort is just one of a series of measures Oceana said are advancing in Washington with "significant opportunities for progress on protecting our coasts."

On Monday, for example, Oceana applauded the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee for proposing a "legislative measure to make permanently protect the Atlantic, Pacific, and Eastern Gulf of Mexico from future offshore drilling." That committee lists two representatives from Central Florida, U.S. Reps. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, and Dan Webster, R-The Villages.

Webster's office said the congressman supports the ban outlined by former President Trump a year ago.

In addition, the group said a handful of federal lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, inserted language into a fiscal year 2022 funding measure for federal agencies that precludes the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management from spending money to allow the expansion of offshore drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific, or Arctic Oceans plus the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

“Florida’s ecological diversity and economy must never be put at risk by dirty and dangerous drilling activities,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement Wednesday. “This bill language, and other Democratic-led efforts to limit drilling will help safeguard Florida’s natural treasures, and ensure our marine populations and tourist economies don’t face the imminent threat of an oily crude washing up on our beautiful shores. I was proud to help make that happen through the appropriations process. Additionally, we should explore promising offshore wind power sources."

The different, various pieces legislation would not cancel existing leases for offshore drilling. And they would also grandfather in those offshore oil concessions that have been authorized but in which drilling has not yet begun.
That is particularly critical in the western Gulf, where almost 2,000 offshore oil platforms produce 17% of America's crude oil, according to a report this week by AAA - The Auto Club Group. That petroleum supplies refineries in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Alabama, AAA added, that account for more than 45% of the U.S. crude oil that is converted into gasoline and other important products.

Still, Oceana points out oceanic oil drilling leases have a long-term impact as many drilling sites have lifespans that are as long as 50 years. So stopping new leases from being granted now would prevent drilling that could go on close to the next century.

"There is so much talk about climate change and sea level rise, especially here in Florida where we're incredibly worried about it," Uden added. "If we're talking about tackling climate change and moving our country ahead, we really need to prevent selling any new leases for offshore oil and gas drilling. It doesn't make any sense to open up new leases for offshore oil and gas leases, especially in the Atlantic where we are not currently drilling."

Florida opposition to offshore drilling bipartisan, uniform
The Oceana report raised the specter of the 2010 Deepwater Horizons oil spill that released more than 200 million gallons of oil into The Gulf of Mexico over a five-month span. More than a decade later, the damage to the environment, and its marine life, has yet to be fully calculated.

"Offshore drilling threatens coastal businesses and economies that depend on a clean and healthy ocean," the report said. "A catastrophic oil spill, like the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, would pose a great risk to Florida’s coastal economies that depend on a healthy ocean."

Opposition to offshore oil drilling is one issue that has broad bipartisan, political support in Florida.

Florida's governors have long opposed to efforts to open Florida's 8,000-plus miles of coastline to petroleum and energy drilling. So have its federal and state lawmakers.

The last high-profile bid to potentially open Florida waters to drilling was in January 2018, when the Trump administration said it was open to expanded oil drilling in Atlantic and Pacific waters.

But the former president backed off that effort. And a year ago, amid his campaign for re-election, Trump spoke in Jupiter where he announced an extension of the ban on Gulf drilling plus an expansion of the moratorium to the Atlantic coast.

Wind power favored, but not in Florida
The report also calls for transitioning to offshore wind electric generation, and Uden said the budget reconciliation bill would bolster leases for coastal wind power.

She said Oceana supports moving toward "clean energy" and "responsibly sited and developed offshore wind" is part of that mix. She said the proposals on Capitol Hill offshore wind development proposals and Oceana support .
"There are a lot offshore wind development proposals and Oceana does support responsibly sited offshore wind because that is part of our clean energy transition," Uden said.

But she cautioned that Florida is not considered a state that is a "good site" for offshore wind generation. "We're not really talking about specifically about Florida, just offshore wind in general in the Atlantic," Uden said.

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