The federal government on Friday said it was opening Florida’s Gulf Coast to “oil and gas exploration and development.”
A Interior spokesman, however, soon added that the “small slice available (approximately 944,000 acres) … is more than 100 miles offshore Florida.” A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson also said the proposed area is “currently open to drilling and outside the current moratorium.”
“Our staff has spoken with high-level staff at the Department of Interior and they have confirmed that their announcement today does not affect the Secretary’s commitment to not include Florida in any expansion of offshore oil drilling,” said John Tupps, spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott, later Friday.
“The Department will offer 77.3 million acres offshore Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida for oil and gas exploration and development,” it said. “The region-wide lease sale, which is the largest in U.S. history, is scheduled for March 21, and will include all available unleased areas in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico.”
Zinke has promised to Gov. Scott that Florida would not be subject to offshore oil drilling. In January, however, the acting director of the department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said Florida was still in play.
Scott, asked later about that hearing, said Zinke “is a man of his word. He’s a Navy Seal. He promised me that Florida would be off the table, and I believe Florida is off the table.”
The governor added: “Secretary Zinke has made a commitment and he’ll live up to his commitments.”
“Florida’s coastal and offshore areas have high environmental, economic and military value not only for Florida, but also for the nation,” he said. “These areas provide great economic impact for our citizens and provide each resident with recreational opportunities that are unique to Florida.
“(W)e’ve remained concerned by the potential impacts of oil and gas activities on marine and coastal environments and the biological resources and critical habitats associated with them, as well as the military activities critical to our nation’s security,” Valenstein added.
The lease sale terms “include stipulations to protect biologically sensitive resources, mitigate potential adverse effects on protected species, and avoid potential conflicts associated with oil and gas development in the region,” the press release said.
The feds estimate that the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) “contains about 90 billion barrels of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and 327 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered technically recoverable gas. The Gulf of Mexico OCS, covering about 160 million acres, has technically recoverable resources of over 48 billion barrels of oil and 141 trillion cubic feet of gas.”
On Friday, Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said “responsibly developing our offshore energy resources is a major pillar of President Trump’s American Energy Dominance strategy.”
“A strong offshore energy program supports tens of thousands good paying jobs and provides the affordable and reliable energy we need to heat homes, fuel our cars, and power our economy,” he said in a statement.
“We have the strongest safety regulations in the world and today’s technology is making the responsible development of our resources even safer. We look forward to this important sale and continuing to raise energy revenues, which fund efforts to help safeguard our natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans.”
Nonetheless, reaction from Democratic candidates for governor was swift.
“Trump and Zinke may have forgotten about the BP oil spill but Florida families haven’t,” Chris King said. “Increased offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is a risk that Florida’s economy and environment can’t afford.”
Added Philip Levine: “Floridians will not be fooled by the Trump administration’s relentless efforts to drill off our coast. As I’ve said, we are prepared to take on anyone, and I mean anyone, who threatens Florida’s coasts.”
Peter Schorsch, A.G. Gancarski, and Mitch Perry of Florida Politics contributed reporting or background.