Offshore drilling endangers Florida’s future

President Obama announced a new energy plan March 31 that would extend offshore drilling in 167 million acres of water from the Mid-Atlantic to waters just southeast of Jacksonville.

Two-thirds of the eastern Gulf of Mexico will also be open for exploration. The search for oil begins in 2011 and expires in 2017. If oil is found, then extraction will begin 2030. That’s just 10 years before the United States is to reduce oil imports to zero, according to Amory B. Lovins, cofounder and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute.

The move came as the Obama administration sought ways to decrease America’s dependence on foreign oil. The country uses 21 percent of the world’s energy resources, while having only 3 percent of the world’s population, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The president’s plan will end a 20-year ban on drilling in Florida’s waters.

Florida’s residents have been against drilling in the state’s waters for decades, however, it seems that there is little opposition to lifting the ban. An AIF/Zogby poll released in January revealed that, “78 percent of Floridians were in favor of offshore drilling, as long as the ban was done in an environmentally friendly manner,” the study said.

If state lawmakers allow the 20-year restriction to expire, oil-rigs could be placed as close as 10 miles from the coast or as far as 125 miles away. This would mean that some of Florida’s crucial tourist destinations, such as the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area, would be affected in the event of an oil spill.

An oil spill has the potential to affect an area up an area up to 1,300 square miles, as seen with the Valdez, AK., oil spill of 1989. Hypothetically, an oil spill at a refinery placed 125 miles away from Tampa Bay would likely have dire consequences for the areas’ famous beaches. The lead and mercury deposits, byproducts of refining oil, would transform the white sands of Florida’s beaches into a black sludge. The beaches on the Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi coasts are poster children for oil refining gone wrong.

Allowing offshore drilling in Florida may become more of a liability than an asset. The state’s unique and very fragile ecosystem – on which the state’s tourism base depends – may suffer now that its waters are open to corporate oil “fat cats.”

The state’s location, as a threshold for Atlantic hurricanes, means that the oil refineries that would be built off the coast are subject withstand to substantial damage – and that may lead to a domino affect for other sectors of Florida’s economy. The multi-billion dollar fishing industry is most vulnerable to such an occurrence. Millions more are generated in state revenue through issuing fishing licenses. This revenue is likely to disappear if oil extraction harms marine life.

It is true that advances in technology mean that deep-sea oil extraction has become remarkably safer, yet the threat of a large oil spill still poses great danger to Florida’s ecosystem.

Before Hurricane Emily ravaged Mexico, its first victim was British Petroleum’s state of the art oil refinery “Thunder Horse,” which was capable of extracting oil in waters 6,000 feet deep.

This is an example of how even the most technologically advanced industries are dependent on the whims of Mother Nature. The question lawmakers must ask, is this a risk Florida is willing to take?