Don’t Sell Florida Beaches to Big Oil

Guest Blog | September 2, 2009 | Clean Transportation, Energy Policy

The debate for opening up waters to offshore drilling within 10 miles of the Florida coast continues in full fervor.  In fact, it is oilslick_w_city1likely that the Florida State Legislature will consider this issue again during a special session next month.  You might recall that Florida’s leadership failed to pass a Renewable Portfolio Standard this past spring because oil-backed lobbyists convinced House leadership to add an amendment for oil exploration in state waters.

Economists, elected officials, citizens, and environmentalists warn of the dangers of oil drilling’s irreversible impacts, but proponents claim that drilling for oil and gas is safe and clean.  Meanwhile, the Coast Guard is currently cleaning up 58,000 gallons of oil leaked from underwater pipelines off of the coast of Louisiana (creating a three-mile wide, 16 mile long slick).  Beachcombers as far away as Texas are finding tar balls wash up on their beaches from this spill.
A recent article from EnergyFLA stated that “oil production is acknowledged to be one of the cleanest industries operating in the United States”.  Acknowledged by whom?  Certainly not by the 500 specialists who were brought to Southeastern Louisiana right after Hurricane Katrina to clean up the 40 different spills leaking out of a grand total of 7 million gallons of oil.

Florida residents know the truth… from experience.  In 1993, three vessels entering Tampa Bay collided spilling over 300,000 gallons of oil and 33,000 gallons of jet fuel.  Thirteen miles of beaches in Pinellas County were tarred once the oil lapped ashore.  It took nearly a month to clean up.  In August of 2000, Broward County beaches were closed to the public as workers tried to clean up the 85 tons of tar that washed onshore after a tanker spilled 15,000 gallons of crude oil.  Over 7,800 turtle hatchlings were killed along with 25,000 pounds of fish and a dozen shorebirds.

Queensland, Australia after March 2009 spill

This industry is clearly not safe, nor clean as some would claim.  Offshore oil and gas drilling is an industry that has the potential to cripple coastal communities.

The Australians would agree.  Just a few weeks ago, on August 21st, an oil platform off Western Australia ruptured and is currently releasing over 117,000 gallons of oil a day.  It will take an additional six weeks to plug the leaky pipe, and by that time, will have released as much oil as the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989.  Slicks can be seen from coastal towns more than 200 kilometers from the platform and the spill creeps closer to shore every day.  Ribbons of oil are within 20 kilometers of beaches and coastal ecosystems filled with endangered fish and animals.  Australia’s coastal environments, communities and economies are at risk of a national disaster.

In fact, this is Australia’s second spill this year.  In March 2009, over 200,000 liters of crude oil spilled from a cargo ship just southeast of Queensland.  A month later, Queensland’s premier declared the 37-mile stretch of the areas most popular tourist beaches a disaster area. The local tourism economy was devastated.

Florida Can’t Afford the Risks


The Sierra Club recently released a report stating, “Florida’s coastal economy contributes over $550 billion, or 79 percent of the state’s economic productivity”.  Their research shows that nearly 6 million jobs are associated with the state’s coastal economies.

“There’s no evidence anywhere that offshore drilling has hurt tourism in any area where it has been allowed,” said Barney Bishop, president of Associated Industries of Florida in the recent EnergyFla article refuting Sierra Club’s claims.  To the contrary, in the late 70’s a large spill in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in a 60% decline in hotel sales as tar blobs washed up on Texas beaches.

The spills in Pinellas and Broward counties were caused by tanker accidents – closing beaches and turning tourists and their money away.  What would happen if drilling was allowed off the coast?  Imagine Florida’s coastal economies and ecosystems if an underwater pipe leaked like the one currently pumping 117,000 gallons of oil EVERY day into Western Australian waters.

Opening up Florida’s coasts to drilling would cripple a booming tourism and real estate industry, not to mention the thousands of acres of treasured coastal environments.  From the white sandy beaches of Panama City to the Everglades – Florida’s prized coastline and related economic infrastructure just can’t afford the risks of offshore drilling.

No Royal Treatment for Florida
Proponents of offshore drilling say that in this slumping economy oil-drilling royalties would create a windfall of much needed funds to the state.  The fact is that there are restrictions on how royalty money can be spent.

Senator Bill Nelson knows the law and has said, “…oil money won’t build schools, or roads, or pay teachers. It’ll just mitigate (slow down) the oil industry’s ruination of the fourth largest state’s economy and environment”.  Senator Nelson clearly understands that Florida’s lifeblood is tourism and real estate.  Risking the sustainability of these industries for generations to come is not an option.

Even one spill, just one accident, would leave Florida’s beaches crippled for tourism.

Don’t Sell our Florida Beach to Big Oil

Call Senator Nelson’s office today (202-224-5274) and tell him that you strongly support his opposition to offshore drilling.

Both Governor Crist (805-488-4441) and our newly appointed Senator, George LeMieux (who will be sworn in next week) also need to hear from you.  Tell them not to drill away Florida’s prized beaches and coastal communities.  Tell Governor Crist that you will hold him accountable for Senator LeMieux’s vote on any legislation that has offshore drilling in it.

The Florida State Legislature will be meeting October 5th – 9th in a special session and offshore drilling is likely to be discussed.  Find your Representative and tell them not to sell our beaches to big oil.

Tell them there are homegrown energy resources right here in our state that won’t put our livelihoods and our treasured coastlines at stake.

Become part of a larger movement tackling climate and energy issues in Florida- join the Florida Climate Alliance!

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