U.S. Reps. Gwen Graham and David Jolly introduced bipartisan legislation in Congress on Thursday to extend the prohibition on oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico through 2027.
HR 2630, which seeks to amend the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006, extends the drilling ban — 125 miles off much of Florida’s Gulf Coast and as far as 235 miles in some areas — that is now set to expire in 2022.
Graham, a Tallahassee Democrat, represents Florida’s 2nd Congressional District, which covers the eastern part of the Florida Panhandle and much of the Big Bend region along the Emerald Coast. Jolly, a Republican from Indian Shores, represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District, which covers several Pinellas County beaches.
“The Panhandle knows all too well the devastating effects an oil spill can have on our state,” Graham said in a prepared statement. “Keeping our Gulf waters and beaches free from drilling is vital to protecting our environment, our economy and the military in Northwest Florida.”
An oil spill off the Pinellas County coast would be disastrous to quality of life and the local economy, Jolly said.
“It is paramount that we take steps to continue protecting our pristine beaches, our fisheries, our marine sanctuaries, and coastal communities from the impact of increased drilling in the eastern Gulf and devastating events like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010,” he said.
House legislation to extend the drilling ban is similar to a Senate bill filed by Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, which comes in response to moves by other Gulf Coast states to cut the barrier to just 50 miles from the Florida’s west coast.
“The Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred 180 miles from Panama City, and we had minimal oil reach our beaches – but it still cost Northwest Florida’s economy hundreds of millions of dollars,” Graham said. “Imagine what would happen with a spill just 50 miles from our coast.”
Graham pointed out that the ban would also protect “mission-critical defense activities” in her district that need open airspace over the Gulf: Pensacola’s Eglin Air Force Base, Panama City’s Tyndall Air Force Base and Naval Support Activity Panama City.