Like red tide, the push for more drilling near Florida’s beaches is relentless and dangerous.
The latest effort comes from the American Petroleum Institute in the form of a “coalition” called Explore Offshore. In a lame attempt to deflect criticism, the group claims that it wants merely to find out what oil and gas might be available in areas that currently are off-limits. Those areas include almost any site within 125 miles of Florida’s coast on the Gulf of Mexico and anywhere off the coast on the Atlantic Ocean.
Protection for the beaches on which Florida’s tourism industry relies long has been one of the few bipartisan causes in this state. The Department of Defense also supports the Gulf prohibition so it can conduct national security tests. Yet the industry won’t give up. Explore Offshore recently rolled out a campaign that presumes Floridians have short memories.
Jeff Kottkamp is co-chairman in Florida for Explore Offshore. The former state legislator was Charlie Crist’s lieutenant governor in April 2010, when BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded off Louisiana. Yet Kottkamp claimed that no oil reached Florida. That statement would surprise residents of the Panhandle, where heavy oil arrived in late June of that year.
Tarballs hit beaches. Local boaters had been skimming oil. Fishing bans hurt tourism. BP’s settlement with Florida totaled $3.2 billion.
In an interview with the Sun Sentinel editorial board, Kottkamp — who said he is receiving no compensation from Explore Offshore — tried to walk back that comment.
“We got some oil,” Kottkamp said, “but the pictures in the coverage just made it look horrible.”
For those directly affected, it was horrible.
What remains the world’s largest accidental oil spill could have been catastrophic for much of Florida. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon explosion got to within 30 miles of the Gulf of Mexico loop current. It moves five times faster than other waters in the Gulf. Had oil reached it, the current would have carried oil to the Florida Keys and South Florida.
We asked Kottkamp about that close call. He said, “I used to be more in touch with all those facts.”
Explore Offshore’s campaign comes amid controversy about President Donald Trump’s plan to open almost all federal water to drilling and whether Florida would receive an exemption. In January, during a staged event in Tallahassee meant to look spontaneous, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke declared Florida “off the table.” We were suspicious of that pledge and remain so.
Zinke held the event with Gov. Rick Scott, who is running against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. It came just five days after Trump announced his plan. Kottkamp said he wouldn’t support any plan that makes oil rigs visible from the shore. He added: “The industry has learned a whole lot from the (BP) spill. There is improved safety.”
Actually, the industry seems to have learned nothing. After hearing from lobbyists, Trump proposed weakening two safety rules that emerged from the work of a commission that studied the BP spill.
Though Kottkamp maintains he supports just an investigation of what oil might be accessible, Explore Offshore’s website gives away the group’s goal. A fact sheet lists the supposed economic benefits over 20 years of increased oil and gas drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
The industry cites national security as a reason for expanded drilling. We believe Florida’s security is the reason to say no.