A Move To Ban Offshore Oil And Gas Drilling Gets Underway

Dec 14, 2017

Florida voters could be asked to ban oil drilling off Florida’s coasts. The proposal got the green-light Thursday before a Constitution Revision Commission Panel and there was little opposition.

Deepwater Horizon drilling platform on fire in 2010.
Credit US Coast Guard

The Florida legislature has already placed a moratorium on offshore oil drilling but Commission member  Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch wants to make the prohibition permanent—and the way to do that, is by asking Florida voters to add such language into the state constitution. Her measure, Proposition 91, explicitly bans oil and gas drilling in Florida-owned waters on both the Gulf and Atlantic sides of the state. She says the language is necessary because the legislature can’t be trusted to keep its word.

“Unfortunately the state of Florida has a history of a dysfunctional legislature and they often take too long, in my opinion, to address very pressing issues—issues that are timely.”

Talk of a drilling ban escalated in Florida in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, considered the largest of its kind in U.S. history. But just prior to that, notes Florida Wildlife Federation President Manley Fuller, Florida had been considering allowing drilling.

“In about 2008-09 there was an active movement to authorize that through the legislature," he said. "We opposed it, but it had a head of steam behind it, and then we had Deepwater Horizon.”

Which threw cold water on that plan. Organizations like Associated Industries of Florida, and the Florida Petroleum Council's Executive Director David Mica argue the proposed ban would hurt the oil and natural gas industry, and Mica points out that’s where the gas to power cars and heat buildings come from.

“We have a role as Floridians to be obligated to that. It’s critical to point out that existing Florida law...specifically makes exploration and production activities...under a prohibition by statute. So I’m not sure why we’d want to do this additional step of putting it in the constitution. It does it by leaps and bounds.”

But Thurlow-Lippisch says it is a pressing issue, and she points to shifts in federal policy that suggest there could be more offshore drilling, not less, in the near future. And if commissioners needed more convincing, Thurlow-Lippisch says look to the aftermath of Deepwater Horizon and its impact on states like Alabama and Louisiana where rigs are visible from the coast.

“Let them have it in New Orleans. Let them have it in Mobile. We don’t need it here. Part of our image is being the great, beautiful state of Florida. Why would we want to be like them?”

The measure still has to clear the Constitution Revision Commission’s Declaration of Rights committee, but if it does, it could be one of a number of measures Florida voters will be asked to decide in 2018.