Gulf Oil Drilling Moratorium Gets Praise and Criticism in Florida

Earlier this year, Obama was considering a plan to open the eastern Gulf, but that's changed in the wake of the BP oil spill.
TAMPA (2010-12-01) -

A new ban on drilling has been put in place by the Obama Administration that should keep oil drilling rigs from being built off the state's Gulf Coast - at least for the next several years.

The moratorium would last for seven years. The Obama Administration had been considering a plan to open the eastern Gulf to drilling, but that's changed in the wake of the BP oil spill. Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor says the move is sorely needed.

"Thankfully, the administration has learned lessons from the BP oil disaster that Florida's economy is based on clean water and clean beaches," Castor says, "and oil drilling in our near-shore waters poses a threat to our jobs, our economy and our environment."

Castor also noted that the fallout from the spill was felt far from the Panhandle beaches that were coated with oil.

"We know now after the BP disaster that an oil blowout in the Gulf can really harm Florida's tourism industry, and jobs and fishing and look what it did to tourism," she says. "And we're still suffering those economic impacts and fighting and scraping for compensation for our small business owners and hotels and motels."

A moratorium is already in place. In 2006, Congress agreed to ban drilling in an area up to 300 miles off the Gulf coast until 2022. The announcement ends any thoughts the administration might re-open the region to exploration.

Oil industry officials say drilling is the only way to lessen our dependence on imported oil. David Mica is with the Florida Petroleum Council.

"We think that would cost America tens of thousands of jobs," says Mica. "It will make us more dependent on foreign sources of oil and gas and will cost us billions of dollars in revenues to the federal government, at a time when we can ill afford additional problems in very tough economic times."

Mica fears the ban will spur America's oil and gas industry to switch to foreign sources of energy. He also touted recent moves to prevent a repeat of the BP disaster.

"Much as what happens when an airplane crashes, we can't ground all the airplanes forever," he says. "We need to find out what went wrong, correct those kinds of things and keep on flying."

But as long as we are dependent on oil, there will always be a push to open offshore areas for exploration. Bobby McCormick is a professor at Clemson and a fellow with the Property and Environmental Research Center in Bozeman, Montana.

"Part of the reason that the United States is engaging in very risky and very expensive offshore oil drilling is because of the extreme difficulties in drilling onshore that have been imposed for one reason or another," he says.
"Because it's difficult and expensive and regulatory nightmarish to drill onshore, it's become cheaper and makes more business sense to drill offshore."

McCormick says the moratorium is a reasonable interlude - as long as it doesn't turn into a permanent ban.

But that's exactly what Florida Sen. Bill Nelson is aiming for. He got the 2006 moratorium enacted with the cooperation of former Sen. Mel Martinez. Nelson is cautioning that the ban doesn't affect Florida's state waters, which range from three to 10 miles offshore.

"It is my hope now that the administration is totally onboard with this, of no drilling off of Florida," says Nelson, "that we can get the state legislature and the new governor of Florida to likewise not drill within three miles of the coast in state waters."

That's anything but assured. Shortly after the ban was announced, Nelson met Gov.-elect Rick Scott - who has been a firm supporter of offshore drilling.

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