By Irina Slav
The idea of opening up the waters off the coast of Florida to oil and gas drilling has been among the least popular ones of the Trump administration and yet it is still on the table despite opposition from both Democrat and Republican officials in the state and legislators from both parties. Now, it could become a reality if President Trump is willing to risk the loss of an important state in the next elections.
Politico reported this week the Interior Department has been working on a draft plan for offshore oil and gas drilling in the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico. Citing sources from the energy industry, the outlet’s reporters Zack Colman and Ben Lefebvre noted the area had been included in the acreage to be offered in lease sales under the new five-year lease sale plan by the Interior Department that has yet to be released.
Right now, offshore drilling is against the law in Florida, after the state voted an amendment last year to “ban offshore drilling for oil and natural gas on lands beneath all state waters.” However, as Florida Politics reported earlier this month, a lobby group called Explore Offshore has been set up by the American Petroleum Institute to pursue the goal of changing attitudes about offshore drilling in the Sunshine State.
The proponents of offshore drilling in this part of the Gulf of Mexico are not unprepared. There is no talk of drilling in the shallow waters around Florida, which are protected by the ban that entered into effect with the voting of Amendment 9. Plans are to open up much deeper waters.
“We’re talking here about federal waters, the outer continental shelf,” a representative of Explore Offshore told Florida Politics. “There is absolutely no possibility of visual access to any of this activity,” Jim Nicholson added.
Florida’s ban on offshore drilling extends 10 miles into the ocean while the administration’s drilling plans envisage leasing blocks at distances of 80 to 120 miles into the ocean. However, tourism—and the potentially adverse effect on tourists from offshore platforms ruining the ocean view—is not Florida’s only concern. The memories of the Deepwater Horizon disaster are still fresh, hence the strong opposition to any drilling in the area.
It is because of this opposition, from both parties and from voters who in 2016 helped send Donald Trump to the White House, that some believe it would be too big a risk to approve a lease sale plan that involves the waters around Florida. In fact, some Republicans told Politico that losing Florida with the approval of the drilling plan could cost Trump a second term in office.
Yet on the other hand, if one state gets off this easily, others will follow. Last year, there was an outcry from coastal states around the United States after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke exempted Florida from the administration’s drilling plans. If political caution prevails over the energy dominance agenda now, the coastal states will undoubtedly demand to be treated in the same way, which will effectively cancel Trump’s ambitious offshore drilling plans.