Two top Fla. politicans weigh in on offshore drilling

04/26/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Last week, the Obama Administration said the oil leak in the gulf will not sway its support for expanded offshore drilling. While President Obama hopes to include it in his energy policy, not all Washington Democrats are on the same page. This morning, WMNF’s Kate Bradshaw spoke with Florida U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson about his position on drilling for oil in Florida’s waters.

The spill currently sits thirty miles off the shore of Louisiana. It covers an area roughly the size of Houston, and reportedly grows by forty-two thousand gallons, or one thousand barrels, each day. During his Tampa visit, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson called the Louisiana oil rig explosion and subsequent leak a wake-up call. But the senator also said he does not oppose all offshore drilling.

Well, the Obama administration wanted to drill up to 75 miles off of Florida in the gulf. And I said, “Nothing doing.” We would not even consider it for 125 miles, because of the law that I passed four years ago that keeps it 125 miles off of the Panhandle coast of Florida. And so we are now in discussions with the Obama administration as to whether or not 125 miles is far enough off the coast from a standpoint of protecting our tourism interests, our beaches, as well as our delicate estuaries where so much of marine life is spawned.

Senator Nelson said that in addition to the threats drilling poses to the Gulf Coast’s environment and economy, there’s a more politically friendly factor limiting the administration’s ability to open up Florida’s coasts to drilling.

Most of the Gulf of Mexico off of Florida is restricted space because it is the largest testing and training area for the U.S. military in the world. And as a result, we are not going to let any of that area be allowed by the administration for drilling unless the military says that they have no conflict with it. Thus far, they have not said that. So all bets are off right now. We’ll have to see how this progresses.

Senator Nelson visited Tampa the same day the Senate had planned to introduce its proposal to expand drilling in the gulf as part of sweeping energy legislation. That bill is stalled due to partisan disagreement over an unrelated immigration reform bill. National Geographic magazine reports that its sponsors had planned to appear with executives from British Petroleum, the company leasing the rig at the time of the explosion, at the bill’s unveiling. The area that would be slated for oil exploration sits in the eastern half of the Gulf. But its southeastern corner is actually within thirty miles of the Dry Tortugas, which are part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

State Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, a Democrat running for governor, said the recent spill is proof that drilling close to shore is not a good idea.

These uncontrollable accidents can cause enormous harm, and I certainly wouldn’t, just as I wouldn’t advocate this near-shore drilling off the coast of Florida, certainly the areas like the Dry Tortugas are a national treasure. And we should not be drilling close by any area that is environmentally at risk in the event of oil spills.

Cleanup efforts, which could take months, are currently under way in the gulf, including the use of robot submarines and a chemical that disperses oil.

More WMNF coverage of offshore drilling:

Senator Nelson calls for investigation of oil drilling safety

Offshore drilling opponents protest Gingrich

Rep. Kathy Castor opposes drilling off coast of Florida

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The pressure is unending

President Bush and Bill Nelson opened up thousands of square miles for oil drilling and none of the "land" has been drilled. Now Obama is agreeing to open up more "land" for drilling. And the Florida Legislature study found that the oil available is small in terms of the world economy. It could never change the oil and gasoline prices; it could never reduce our dependency on foreign oil; it will not produce many jobs in Florida; and the owners of the drilling companies and refineries are not in Florida so corporate income taxes will not be collected here either. There is really nothing but risk for Florida. There is no upside at all. How can any Floridian actually see any benefit to drilling near Florida? When will the relentless pressure ever end? Even if they spill oil and ruin our seafood supply/industry and tourism they will still want to drill. We should not give them ONE MORE INCH!