BP Disaster Environment News Pensacola Politics State & National News

Drill, Maybe, Drill?

February 2, 2012

With less than two years having passed since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, nearly 80 percent of Floridians support increased oil and natural gas development.

This figure was arrived at by the American Petroleum Institute via an in-state phone survey this month. The Institute conducted a conference call with press this morning to tout the poll results.

“We have oil and gas resources, we can develop them,” said John Felmy, API’s chief economist.

Felmy said he thought Floridians—traditionally shy of drilling—had come around to the possibility because they understood that fossil fuels are a reality. He said that increased energy production was also needed to support Florida’s biggest industry, tourism.

“Of course, you need oil to get all the tourists to Florida,” Felmy said. “Right now, the only way to get folks to Florida is to use petroleum.”

Currently, the Energy Securities and Transportation Jobs Act—H.B. 3410—is making the rounds through Congress up in D.C. Among other things, the bill would open up the eastern Gulf of Mexico to drilling—in effect lifting the current moratorium protecting Florida’s portion of the Gulf—and require the Department of Interior to conduct incremental lease sales in that area.

“The bill repeals the moratorium on the Eastern Gulf,” said Elly Tepper, a legislative advocate with the National Resources Defense Council. “It puts the entire eastern Gulf on the table for drilling.”

The bill would also wildly expand oil and natural gas operations on the Outer Continental Shelf, as well as inland throughout the country. API supports the bill. Felmy said portions of the country seeing increased natural gas exploration—the fracking, the shale, etc.—would also appreciate ramping up development.

“These people are very supportive, because they understand it’s real,” Felmy said. “It means jobs.”

The bill passed through the house’s Natural Resources Committee yesterday. While the original bill abolished the Military Mission Line—which banned drilling in the Eastern Planning Area of the Gulf—the committee amended it so that the traditional boundaries are now redefined.

“We’re constantly in discussions with the military about our operations,” Felmy said.

The amended bill has failed to satisfy U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), who represents areas near the now-protected Eastern Planning Area.

“The bottom line is, the congressman opposes the bill in its current form,” said spokesman Dan McFaul.

McFaul explained that the bill—though leaving the Military Mission Line intact—would put Florida at too much risk. The amended bill redefines boundaries so that eastern portions of the Gulf fall into the Central Planning Area, which is fair game for drilling, and also mandates three 50-block sales in the Eastern Planning Area.

“This new ‘compromise’ bill language would allow drilling in areas off of  Pensacola beach by moving everything west of the Military Mission Line into the Central Planning Area,” McFaul said.  “It also opens up limited drilling in the Eastern Planning Area, which could include more areas just south of us, potentially within 12 miles of the coast.  While the bill contains some authority for the Defense Department to restrict drilling, it does not go near far enough in protecting the shores and beaches of Northwest Florida.”

The NRDC is hoping the bill fails. Tepper’s optimistic.

“The house republican leadership has made the transportation bill so controversial by tacking on the oil-above-all provisions that it has no chance of passing the senate,” she said.

McFaul said he didn’t know if the bill could be altered enough to appease Miller.

“It’d take a lot,” he said. “They’ve got a long way to go.”

You Might Also Like