The idea of opening the eastern Gulf of Mexico to offshore oil drilling has been debated for years, and in July of this year, with gas prices reaching record-breaking highs, talk of increasing the number of offshore water leases available to energy companies resurfaced.
On Sept. 22, at an event hosted by Healthy Gulf, environmentalists will discuss the latest plans for offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the threat to Florida’s coast and beaches. The evening event, dubbed Protecting Florida’s Coast, will be held at Idyll Hounds Brewing on 845 Serenoa Road in Santa Rosa Beach.
A similar event was held in Pensacola last week.
Oil exploration risks:Oil exploration risks unleashing explosives hidden along Gulf & Atlantic Ocean floor
Oil drilling:Build Back Better plan includes permanent ban on offshore oil drilling in Florida waters
The Biden administration has proposed conducting 10 auctions for oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico and another in Alaska’s Cook Inlet. And while the plan, set to run between 2023 and 2028, seeks to ban exploration off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, it didn’t necessarily exclude the Eastern Gulf from consideration.
The Democratic president’s proposal surfaced a couple months after U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz made headlines as the only U.S. House Republican to oppose the American Energy Independence from Russia Act, a bill introduced by Republican House members following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
That bill would also have expanded offshore drilling opportunities in the Gulf of Mexico.
To date, offshore drilling in the Gulf has been confined to central and western areas primarily off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas. Gaetz has staunchly opposed drilling in the Eastern Gulf because, he said, it would impact a vast over-water test range utilized by Eglin Air Force Base and other Northwest Florida military installations.
“Launching experimental missiles over oil rigs is as dumb as dumb gets,” Gaetz said when asked about his vote.
In September of 2020, then-President Donald Trump, who recognized Gaetz as a key ally, signed an executive order extending an existing offshore oil drilling ban in the Eastern Gulf until 2032. That order is not binding under the Biden administration.
It is in the context of all this activity that speakers from Healthy Gulf and Surfrider Emerald Coast will address the oil drilling issues at the Protecting Florida’s Coast event.
Christian Wagley, a Pensacola-based representative of Healthy Gulf, said the Biden administration’s proposed five-year drilling plan will be the primary focus of discussion.
“Healthy Gulf and many others are opposing further lease sales in the Gulf since the industry already has untapped leases of 8 million acres,” Wagley said.
The discussion will center around continuing impacts from drilling in terms of air and water quality, as well as climate change, he said. Event organizers will also discuss the threat to Florida beaches and coastal economies from expanded drilling, even drilling occurring immediately offshore of other states.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, which originated off the coast of Louisiana, released millions of gallons of oil into the gulf and stained beaches across Northwest Florida, with Escambia County beaches being the most heavily impacted.
Formal comments on the Biden administration proposal are due Oct. 6, Wagley said, and organizers of Protecting Florida’s Coast will provide information about how Northwest Florida residents can make their voices heard.
Another topic of discussion, Wagley said, will be the June 30 end of a Congressional moratorium on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf and proposed legislation to extend the moratorium or make it permanent.
The Protecting Florida’s Coast program gets underway at 7 p.m. with the presentation of four short films highlighting grassroots movements around drilling, impacts from the 2010 BP oil disaster and the revolution in clean energy.