Tallahassee, FL – The future leaders of the Florida legislature declared Tuesday that there will be no plans to allow drilling off the coast of Florida, at least while under their watch. But as Trimmel Gomes reports, the declaration comes as concerns continue to grow over plans for oil drilling just north of Cuba, near the Florida Keys.
Before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, there was a massive effort by members of the oil industry to get Florida lawmakers to open its shores to near shore drilling. That meant drilling as close as 3 to 10 miles off beaches. The effort failed, but now Senate President Designate Don Gaetz of Destin says he will not even consider the idea following the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
"If the Republicans retain control of the Senate and if I'm elected Senate President, I will not entertain legislation that will allow offshore drilling in Florida's sovereign waters."
House Speaker-Designate Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel, essentially agrees.
"I don't have any plans for any drilling off of our shores at least not within the 10 miles that we control."
But those representing the oil industry say that means Florida will continue to miss out on opportunities to increase revenue while creating jobs. David Mica with the Florida Petroleum Council says it's a little too soon for Gaetz and Weatherford to shut the door on the possibility of offshore drilling.
"oh gosh there is still a long period of time before a year from November when they have to face reelection and all those kinds of things to take place, who knows what the state of the world in the United States will be, I do know that across the United States, there has been a resurgence in oil and gas exploration and new finds that have taken place that have helped the economies"
Current Speaker of the House, Dean Cannon, was the one who advocated strongly for legislators to consider exploring for oil and natural gas in Florida's territorial waters, but he says he is sensitive to people's concerns following the spill.
"I hope one day it will be considered, because I do believe that the state's abilities especially our fellow Gulf States to access resources make sense and it's good for them but I don't think in this year, I made a commitment a year and a half ago that it wouldn't come up during my two years as speaker and I'm sticking by that."
Senate President Mike Haridopolos was also on board with the plan.
"Dean Cannon and I both said after the accident last year that unfortunately we can't get it done, it's one where we want to find out exactly what happened off the coast of Louisiana and make sure that we are prepared, and we hope* the future Legislatures and constitutional amendment in which to move that process forth. If Speaker Weatherford or president. Gaetz choose not to do it on their watch that's their decision."
Haridopolos says that's why the state needs to take a strong look at other sources of energy, like solar wind, and biofuels to get self reliant and less dependent on foreign sources of energy. Despite calling on lawmakers to look at an all energy solution, he cautions that Florida still has a lot to worry about, especially down South.
"The Chinese are investing in drilling off the coast of Cuba and that could jeopardize Florida waterways, so we need to have a plan of action so God forbid something wrong happens there, that we are ready and prepared for some type of disaster."
Spanish Oil Giant Repsol plans to begin exploratory drilling as early as December in the Florida Straits, right between Key West and Cuba. David Mica with the Florida Petroleum Council says American Oil company executives did meet with some Cuban representatives to talk about safety considerations and those discussions are ongoing.
"Some believe that the relationship that we have from a national perspective with Cuba is a concern in that some of our readiness and capabilities of our spill response would be heightened if those problems were not in place, you know the world is a difficult place."
Florida's Congressional leaders have sent letters trying to urge the company to walk away from the project. Meanwhile members in the environmental community continue to voice concerns for places like the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the overall environment, if an oil disaster strikes again.