Op-Ed

Deepwater Horizon oil spill just a hint of the threat of drilling off Florida’s coasts

Crews clean up oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill that washed ashore at Pensacola Beach in 2010.
Crews clean up oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill that washed ashore at Pensacola Beach in 2010. AP

In 2010, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill became the worst environmental disaster in the history of the United States. Floridians and other residents of the Gulf Coast watched with horror as oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 harrowing days.

Eleven men died in that tragedy, beaches closed along the Gulf and coastal businesses shuttered. Over 1 million animals — some extremely rare and threatened — perished as a result of the spill. In many ways, our oceans and wildlife are still suffering the consequences.

Despite the extreme risk to our economy and environment, the oil and gas industry won’t give up until they’ve extracted every last drop of oil from the Earth. And they will do and say anything to get elected officials to let them.

At a recent press conference in Tallahassee, Jeff Kottkamp, Florida’s former lieutenant governor of Florida who now heads the oil and gas industry’s Explore Offshore campaign. As a drilling salesman, Kottkamp claimed that oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster “didn’t even reach the shores of Florida.”

Feel free to take a moment to lift your jaw off the floor. And, if you need, images of former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist on oil-covered beaches in the Panhandle are just a Google search away.

Kottkamp’s gaslighting (no pun intended) is the oil and gas companies’ last chance to cash out before time expires on their dying industry.

Their public relations pitch is a Hail Mary, for sure. But it’s also an excellent reminder to all Floridians that it’s our job to make sure elected officials are listening to us, not the industry’s high-priced lobbyists.

In January, President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke released a draft of their plan to open up more than a billion underwater acres to new drilling. Their plan represents an unnecessary threat to almost all of America’s coastlines, but especially Florida’s. Offshore drilling in Alaska may not put Floridians at risk for another spill, but it will still contribute to climate change, sea-level rise and the multitude of problems associated with both. Take a look at the outrage on our coasts from the algae and red tide wreaking havoc on our shores.

Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Carlos Curbelo have done the right thing by opposing offshore drilling regionally. But unfortunately, this “It’s not here, so it’s not our problem” attitude doesn’t work anymore when it comes to oil drilling.

Florida’s legislators need to stand up for our coastal economy and quality of life by shutting down the Trump/Zinke drilling plan. This is especially important considering how readily available and inexpensive it has become to increase the state’s solar energy production. They don’t call us the Sunshine State for nothing.

Solar is now the least expensive form of energy. Upstart American entrepreneurs are opening and expanding solar-panel businesses across the country. And every year, as climate change and sea-level rise become more evident, the public outcry against dirty fossil fuels becomes louder.

In November, by voting Yes on Amendment 9, citizens will have a chance to put a ban on offshore oil drilling in Florida’s waters in the state Constitution. This is a good first step. Next, we need Rubio and Curbelo to show that they understand the urgency behind climate science by opposing new offshore oil drilling anywhere in the United States.

Climate change and sea-level rise are real. We can see (and smell) the slimy results of climate change-fueled algae blooms and red tide on our coasts. The last thing we need is to add oil to the slime.

Jonathan Webber is the deputy director of Florida Conservation Voters, headquartered in Tallahassee.

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