The health of Florida’s environment and economy is inextricably linked to the health and well-being of our coastline. Florida’s coasts and marine waters provide the economic lifeblood for hundreds of tourism and fishing communities, providing billions of dollars of economic activity and millions of jobs. That’s why for decades Floridians have successfully thwarted efforts to open our waters to offshore drilling. The risks, we know, are too high; the rewards, far too small.
Those that would reap financial profit from exploiting Florida’s coastline and marine waters claim that offshore drilling is a safe, clean process that causes no harm to the environment. This is a fallacy, and one only needs to look at recent news for proof.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster may have happened more than four years ago, but according to a newly released scientific report the Gulf of Mexico’s seafloor is still coated with a “bathtub ring” of oil nearly triple the size of New York City. How this is affecting the Gulf’s marine life and water quality is still being measured, and may not be fully known for decades. Yet BP has done everything in its power to hide the extent of the spill and minimize its ecological and financial impact.
They’ve had plenty of practice, as oil spills are commonplace for the offshore drilling industry. Three million gallons of oil spilled from offshore oil and gas operations in 73 separate incidents between 1980 and 1999. In the last decade, the number of spills quadrupled. Given their track record, how can oil companies reasonably assure Floridians that another catastrophic spill — one that could spoil the ecology and economic value of Florida’s coastline for generations — won’t happen? Answer: they can’t.
We need only go back to November 20th for another example of the risky nature of offshore oil and gas drilling. That day an oil platform exploded off the Louisiana coast, killing one worker and injuring three others. Fortunately, the platform was not in production at the time, and as far as we know no oil was spilled – this time. But this latest accident further underscores the real human, environmental and financial risks inherent in offshore drilling.
Offshore drilling generates large amounts of routine pollution in the form of toxic drilling muds, cuttings, heavy metals and other harmful discharges. One temporary Chevron exploratory well off Florida’s coast was estimated to have legally discharged more than 23,000 barrels of drilling muds and other production fluids into our Gulf.
Energy efficiency and conservation, along with the use of more renewable sources such as solar and wind, offers us the cheapest, easiest and safest way to meet our nation’s and Florida’s energy needs. The “Sunshine State” should be leading a solar energy renaissance, which would be a financial and jobs boon to the state.
Making our homes, offices, cars and trucks more efficient will save energy and money today and far into the future – without risking the economic lifeblood of our state and our world-famous coastline. Instead of relying on volatile and expensive sources of oil and gas, we can use better technology to reduce our energy demand while producing more energy from renewable sources like wind and solar power.
Offshore oil and gas drilling is the slowest, dirtiest and most expensive way to produce energy. Opening our coasts to destructive drilling would do little to lower prices or make us energy independent, but it would threaten our beaches with pollution and potential oil spills and put at risk multi-billion dollar coastal tourism and recreation economies.
Efforts to open our coast to oil and gas drilling were wrong for Florida years ago, and they are wrong for Florida today.
Mark Ferrulo is executive director of Progress Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.