A coalition of business and civic organizations is joining the American Petroleum Institute to build support for exploring natural gas and oil resources in the Gulf of Mexico. The coalition was announced Wednesday in Tallahassee as a way to begin the conservation of balancing potential economic growth while protecting Florida’s environment.
Former U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson is national co-chair of the “Explore the Gulf” effort. He says new technology makes oil drilling safer than in the past, adding that “it’s doable” to drill and be friendly to the environment. “First of all, we’re advocating that we go out and quantify what’s out there,” said Nicholson. “There’s been no seismic work done in these areas in over 30 years.” He added they believe there are large quantities of natural gas and oil but without the tests no one knows how much or where. Nicholson says once that’s determined then step two is to use safe methods to extract it.
The national effort also includes a bipartisan Florida coalition headed up by former Lieutenant Governor Jeff Kottkamp, Dr. Miriam Ramirez, a former state senator from Puerto Rico and Wayne Harris, former Okaloosa County Commissioner.
Florida has traditionally opposed drilling off the coast because of the impact a spill could have on the state’s beaches, both environmentally and economically. The American Petroleum Institute’s state organization, the Florida Petroleum Council, believes with the advancement of drilling technology, Floridians will be attracted to the potential for new jobs and less reliance on foreign oil. “We’ve started the conversation about the divide, about vilifying and deifying and it doesn’t need to be either,” said Dave Mica, Executive Director of the Florida Petroleum Council. “It’s a process and we want to be a part of that conversation.”
“It’s going to take a lot of education, a lot of discussion and a lot of convincing that the science is there to protect the great treasures of those coastal communities and the tourist industry,” said Secretary Nicholson. “But we know that, and we’re prepared to deal with that.”
Just how quickly the conversation takes place remains to be seen. Earlier this year Governor Rick Scott received assurances from the federal government that drilling off the state’s coast is off-the-table. And memories are still fresh following the 2010 BP oil spill off the coast of Louisiana. But Mica adds, “we’re now at a safer point than we’ve ever been.”