Florida waters long closed to offshore drilling would open up under a Trump administration plan to dramatically expand domestic oil and gas production.
The plan drew swift criticism from political leaders of both parties in Florida. Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who previously opposed protections put in place by the Obama administration, objected. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who have fought to extend a drilling ban in the eastern Gulf, also criticized a draft proposal released Thursday by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
“I have already asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration,” Scott said in a statement.
According to the proposal, open to public comment for the next 60 days, the nation would more than quadruple the number of drilling leases available in U.S. waters. The plan covers parts of the eastern Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast not available since 1988, as well as the Atlantic coast and Florida Straits. In total, the plan would open the nation’s offshore oil and gas reserves in all but one area off Alaska over the next five years.
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“This is clearly the difference between energy weakness and energy dominance,” Zinke said in a press call.
Zinke said Florida’s worries, still colored by thedisastrous oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig failure in 2010, would factor into the final plan, along with concerns about sensitive military operations in the Gulf.
“Certainly, Florida is going to have a say,” he said. “Interior should not be the role of adversary. We should be a partner.”
The announcement follows an April executive order from the president that reversed drilling bans Obama enacted in his final days and ordered a review of exploration and production.
Under the plan, 47 leases would become available over the next five years. That includes three in the South Atlantic off the Central Florida coast and one in the straits between Key West and Cuba available in 2023. Leases in the eastern Gulf would also go on the auction block in 2023 following the expiration of a ban that Nelson helped broker in 2006 with former Republican Sen. Mel Martinez.
“This plan is an assault on Florida’s economy, our national security, the will of the public and the environment,” he said Thursday.
Drilling off Florida shores has long been opposed by environmentalists and Florida politicians sensitive to an economy driven by tourists drawn to its pristine beaches.
“Gambling with tourism, Florida’s No. 1 industry, and risking the lives of our birds and wildlife are only a few of the dangerous risks of offshore drilling,” Audubon Florida interim Executive Director Julie Wraithmell said in a statement.
A state ban now prevents drilling in state waters and last month the state’s Constitution Revision Commission agreed to consider a measure for the 2018 election ballot to make the rule permanent. Former Gov. Charlie Crist also convened a special session following the BP spill in a failed bid to make a drilling ban part of the state’s constitution.
Following the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in 2010 — which killed 11 crew members, injured another 17 and created a months-long underwater gusher of oil in the Gulf of Mexico — Nelson and Rubio fought to extend the drilling ban in federal waters to 2027.
Environmentalists said the about-face on drilling considers none of the environmental risks and not only risks wildlife but weakens efforts to fight climate change.
“Offshore drilling is a dirty business,” Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark said in a statement. “Even when there is no major catastrophe, marine wildlife is devastated by routine spills, air pollution, seismic blasting and other fallout from industrial oil and gas development in our oceans.”
The Sierra Club, which is suingTrump in Alaska over the executive order, said the plan also goes against overwhelming public support in service to industry demands.
“Rather than listen to the people they are supposed to work for,” a statement said, “Trump and Zinke are listening to the industry that’s bankrolled their campaigns and filled their administration.”
While Florida politicians lined up in opposition, Louisiana Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy welcomed the news saying increased exploration and production would create thousands of jobs. Florida Petroleum Council executive director David Mica also argued drilling would boost the state’s economy and cited a 2015 study that found the industry provided nearly $12 billion in wages.
Thursday’s plan also follows an Interior announcement last week to weaken safeguards enacted following the BP oil spill. The changes loosen safety rules on equipment and testing of undersea devices intended to prevent accidents like the Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 workers and dumped nearly 3 million barrells of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Public meetings will be held around the country over the next 60 days. Dates, times and locations will be posted on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management web site at www.boem.gov/National-Program/.
Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich