As Federal Plan Nears, Florida Voters Say 'No' to Offshore Drilling

The Trump administration expects to release a new draft of the proposal to expand offshore drilling "by year's end." Meanwhile, Florida voters sent a message expressing their opposition.
by | November 6, 2018
A worker inspects equipment on an offshore drill. (Shutterstock)

SPEED READ:

  • The Trump administration expects to release a new draft of its plan to expand offshore oil and gas drilling in federal waters "by year's end."
  • All of the governors on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, other than Maine and Georgia, oppose the idea.
  • Florida voters approved Amendment 9, which enshrines the state's existing ban on offshore drilling in the state's Constitution. It also bans workplace vaping.
 

As the Trump administration works on plans to allow offshore oil and gas drilling in places where it’s been banned for decades, voters in Florida sent an overwhelming message Tuesday that they don't want offshore drilling in their waters.

Florida voters overwhelmingly supported a new amendment to their state constitution to ban such drilling in state waters near the shore. With 92 percent of precincts reporting, nearly 69 percent of voters supported the measure.

A few days after the Trump administration raised the possibility earlier this year of expanding offshore drilling, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke met with Florida Gov. Rick Scott and declared that the state would be exempt from the new policy. “The public comments are being assessed, and the next draft of the plan is being completed,” says Heather Swift, a senior adviser to Zinke. “We expect the next draft to be released by year's end.”

But Susan Glickman, the Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, worries that the federal government’s next version of the rules won’t have the Florida protections. Florida has some of the most attractive locations for new drilling because it is close to existing operations off Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi in the Gulf Coast. Oil companies are particularly interested in natural gas deposits in the Destin Dome, 25 miles off the Florida shore.

That's why Glickman supported Amendment 9, which asked Florida voters to ban companies from drilling for oil in state waters. Florida can’t block the federal government from allowing drilling in far-off federal waters, but it can send a message by blocking drilling in state waters, she says.

The ban in the state constitution now extends three nautical miles from the shore along the Atlantic coast and nine nautical miles along the Gulf of Mexico. Federal policy, on the other hand, would dictate what happens between those close-in waters and the international boundaries 200 miles out.

In effect, the amendment locks in current state policy because Florida already has a law on its books banning drilling in state waters. Glickman says Florida’s ban should be written in the state constitution to prevent lawmakers from lifting it. The Florida House, she notes, voted to repeal the ban in 2009, but the measure never got past the state Senate.

Amendment 9 not only bans offshore drilling in state waters but also bans workplace vaping. The amendment is a strange beast, a double-headed creature put together by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), an obscure state body of 37 officials that meets every two decades to recommend changes to the state’s charter. Both bans were thought to be pretty uncontroversial in the state, and proponents said they would link clean air and clean water.

Both proponents and opponents of the drilling ban claimed that their stance would help Florida’s economy.

Florida depends on tourism for jobs, and that tourism, in turn, depends on clean beaches and a healthy environment, says Glickman. An oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could have far-reaching impacts, she notes, because the circular currents in the Gulf can carry pollution down the coast and even into the Atlantic Ocean -- something residents have been learning this year during the "red tide" outbreak, an overgrowth of a type of algae that's toxic to marine and human life. As of August, the red tide had cost businesses more than $8 million.

On the other hand, a group called Explore Offshore Florida said the state's economy could benefit from jobs in the oil and gas industry. Its leaders also argued that “these efforts ignore our current and future needs for additional energy production and could ultimately lead to much higher electric bills and gas prices.”

For the time being, though, public opposition to offshore drilling in Florida and other states might be keeping oil and gas companies at bay. All of the governors on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, other than Maine and Georgia, oppose drilling off their coasts. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order last month blocking drilling in state waters.

Zinke has said that the Trump administration’s next plan will take into account that local opposition. States can make it very difficult for companies to drill off their beaches by blocking pipelines in state waters, which California is doing, and taking other measures. “If the state doesn’t want it,” he recently said, according to The Hill, “the state has a lot of leverage.”

For results of the most important ballot measures, click here.