With Spill in Rear View and Expensive Gas, Drill Baby Drill Again

By: David Royse, The News Service of Florida
By: David Royse, The News Service of Florida

Tallahassee, FL - Two key figures in state government said Tuesday that despite rising gas prices, it’s not yet time to open the Gulf of Mexico to new oil drilling.

Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Dean Cannon said they’re not convinced that another spill like the one that shut down the northern Gulf coast last year is completely avoidable.

Opponents of “drill baby drill,” thought they had heard the last of it, because of the simple retort of spill, baby, spill, after the Deepwater Horizon explosion last year brought the northern Gulf coast economy to a stop.

But with gas once again nearing the $4 a gallon mark in Florida, slowly, the discussion of opening areas of ocean near Florida to new drilling is coming back, just a year after the spill.

But even as politicians from members of Congress to state Senate President Mike Haridopolos again call for new drilling, both Scott and Cannon said it’s not time.

“We have to look at offshore drilling, but we can’t do it unless we’re very comfortable it’s safe,” Scott said in an interview Tuesday with the News Service of Florida. “If it’s not safe we’re going to ruin our beaches … and dramatically impact our economy.

“No one’s showed me that it’s safe,” Scott said.

Through a spokeswoman, House Speaker Dean Cannon is also sending a note of caution.

“His position hasn’t changed,” Cannon’s spokeswoman, Katie Betta, said Tuesday. “Deepwater Horizon was a game changer and until we have a better understanding of the totality of impacts from the incident, he would not support the expansion of offshore drilling.”

Cannon, R-Winter Park, had, along with Haridopolos, been among those pushing for new drilling before the spill.

There is a federal moratorium on drilling in many parts of the Gulf of Mexico up to 125 miles out until the year 2023. But there are frequently discussions of trying to open the area up, particularly when gas prices go up. The average price for a gallon of gas in Florida hit $3.92 last week according to AAA Auto Club South. That’s a full dollar more than the average price a year ago.
The state has control over waters closer in – about 10 miles out into the Gulf and three miles into the Atlantic. The Legislature appeared on the verge of allowing new drilling in that near shore area last year when the BP rig explosion occurred, dooming the bill.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos recently raised the idea of a possible return of the debate over near-shore drilling, saying last month in a webcast interview that the high gas prices have again changed the calculation.

"We have to start drilling, we need to become more self-dependent," Haridopolos said in the interview on Newsmax TV. "We need to open up those new opportunities in the Gulf and ANWR (the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge). Four dollars-plus in gasoline (is) crippling the middle class….America needs to lead by example."

Backers of the idea last year had argued that if the state began allowing near shore drilling, the federal moratorium might end too, because part of its goal is to protect Florida. If Florida is allowing drilling close in, farther out drilling could be justified. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, however, has made new drilling in the Gulf an issue he’s vowed to take a strong stand against.

But with consumers feeling the pump pain, a few other politicians are starting to join Haridopolos in the bid to reopen the discussion. Even Democratic President Obama has called for increased domestic drilling for oil and natural gas.

U.S. Rep. Alllen West, a Broward County Republican, actually went to a gas station in his district to call for new drilling, pumping some $3.96 a gallon regular for customers while there.

“We need to open (Florida waters) up and we need to make sure that we have all the right control measures in place that we can have it done safely,” West said, according to the Palm Beach Post. “And also we need to make sure that Florida is part of the revenue sharing that comes off of this."

West’s call was broader than that. He said new oil drilling is only part of the solution, and should go along with increased American production of natural gas, coal, biofuels, wind energy, and solar energy, a call that Scott also has made.

Mark Ferrulo, executive director of the progressive advocacy group Progress Florida, and a longtime drilling opponent, said the new calls for offshore drilling are shortsighted anyway – because the impact wouldn’t be felt where consumers want it – at the gas pump.

“We could drill for every single drop of oil within our borders, including under Space Mountain, and it will not affect the price of gas one bit,” Ferrulo said. “That price is set on the international market. We have 3 percent of the world’s petroleum…..As long as we’re addicted to oil we will always be dependent on foreign sources.”

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