Bill introduced to ban Florida coastal drilling

By Emily Ronis

A green sea turtles glides along Florida’s continental shelf, which lawmakers are hoping to exclude from future oil and gas drilling. ©FWC Fish and Wildlife Rescue Institute

Members of Florida’s congressional delegation have moved to codify Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s promise to exempt the state from proposed offshore oil and gas exploration.

In January, Zinke proposed opening 90 percent of U.S. coastline to offshore drilling. The next day, after a private meeting with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Zinke tweeted that the state’s coasts would be excluded from drilling.

Now, Florida representatives want to make the tweet binding. Rep. John Rutherford introduced the “PROTECT Florida Act” (H.R. 5014) with nine Florida Republican co-sponsors. The bill would bar Zinke from issuing oil and gas leases in the South Atlantic and Florida Straits areas until 2029.

The bill would also extend an existing moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the eastern portion of the Gulf of Mexico until 2029. The moratorium is currently set to expire in 2022.

The representatives argue that allowing oil and gas drilling threatens both Florida’s economy and environment, especially coastal fish and wildlife.

“The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster that spewed nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the gulf, spanning thousands of square miles, must not be forgotten,” wrote the representatives in a Tampa Bay Times column. “Birds, marine mammals, fish and turtles were injured and killed. Beaches, marshes and wetlands were soaked in oil, and fisheries were closed. Even though this rig was off the coast of Louisiana, Florida’s economy took a major hit for several months. Vacations, fishing trips and restaurant reservations were canceled from the Panhandle down to the Keys,”

The bill’s co-sponsors are Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Ron DeSantis, Matt Gaetz, Brian Mast, Francis Rooney, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Dennis Ross and Ted Yoho.

In Alaska, state Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz wrote a letter to Zinke and Acting Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Walter Cruickshank to also oppose oil and gas drilling off that state’s coasts.

Franz also points to the Deepwater Horizon spill as evidence that oil and gas drilling operations are dangerous and threaten the state’s economy, fish and wildlife and the communities that rely on a healthy marine environment.

“I urge you to withdraw your proposal to open our continental shelf to oil and gas leasing, and provide Washington the same exemption you provided to the state of Florida,” Franz wrote.

Alaska has been at the center of the Trump administration’s push for increased domestic energy production, including opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling via the tax bill passed last year.

Read The Wildlife Society’s Position Statement on Energy Development and Wildlife.

Emily Ronis is a Policy Communication Intern at The Wildlife Society. Read more of Emily's articles.