Oil drilling proposal may be headed for ballot

Hands Across the Sand oil protest
Two months before the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, protestors drew a line in the sand against oil drilling on Anna Maria Island’s beaches. - Cindy Lane | Sun

Updated March 27, 2018

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) has selected 25 of 36 proposals, including Proposal 91, to send to its Style and Drafting Committee.

Sponsored by CRC member Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, Proposal 91 would prohibit drilling for exploration or extraction of oil or natural gas beneath all state waters between the mean high water line and the outermost boundaries of the state’s territorial seas.

After the proposals are written in their final form, the 37-member CRC will reconvene next month to vote on them. Proposals must receive at least 22 votes to be placed on the 2018 General Election Ballot.

As the eighth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster approaches, a proposal to prohibit drilling for oil or natural gas in Florida’s coastal waters is one of 36 in the running to be placed on the November ballot for voters to decide.

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) is scheduled to meet for five days beginning on Monday, March 19 to decide which, if any, of the proposals – and several others initiated by citizens – will make it onto the ballot.

Every 20 years, the commission is appointed to review proposals that would amend the state constitution with 60 percent of the popular vote. Statewide public hearings on the proposals ended this week.

Proposal 91, sponsored by CRC member Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, would prohibit drilling for exploration or extraction of oil or gas beneath all state waters between the mean high water line and the outermost boundaries of the state’s territorial seas.

“We have a chance to make history and turn the ship. We would be the only state in the nation to have this in our state constitution,” Thurlow-Lippisch wrote in a press release. “The oil and gas industry claim oil drilling is safe and that it would be good for Florida’s economy and job creation. I say, look no further than what happened in Louisiana during the BP oil spill. Drilling so close to shore, as is done in other coastal southern states, has the potential to be visually, environmentally and economically destructive to Florida’s unique marine, wildlife, real estate and tourism resources.”

The proposal has been supported by environmental groups and representatives from the fishing industry, including local groups Suncoast Waterkeeper and the Manatee Fish and Game Association.

Lucan Thompson, of St. Petersburg, said during the final CRC public hearing on Tuesday, March 13 that Proposal 91 would “protect us from air and water pollution.”

“Oil is not sustainable,” Jeanie Ghafari told commissioners, reminding them that the Deepwater Horizon/BP explosion and spill on April 20, 2010, killed 11 people.

“What is at risk? Oil spills are not contained in the ocean. They contaminate the shoreline. They can last more than 30 years like the Exxon Valdez,” she said. “Tourism feeds Florida’s economy. Are we willing to destroy tourism, our main industry? Are we willing to destroy the shoreline for decades? Are we willing to contaminate the Florida aquifers that millions of families depend on? Are we willing to kill fish and other sea life? I say no.”

Florida not safe

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) warns that despite a federal moratorium on drilling within 125 miles of Florida’s coast, which expires in 2022, and despite U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s assurance to Gov. Rick Scott earlier this year that the waters off Florida’s Gulf Coast would remain off limits to drilling, the Trump administration appears to be including Florida in a new, five-year offshore oil leasing proposal.

“Interior Secretary Zinke doubled down on confusing lawmakers in Congress when he admitted in the House Natural Resources Committee (on Thursday, March 15) that, ‘Florida did not get an exemption,’ referencing the agency’s five-year offshore drilling plan and his announcement in January with Gov. Scott saying Florida was ‘off the table’ for oil drilling,” Nelson said in a press release. “More and more, it’s beginning to sound like no deal really exists and, as feared, it’s all one big political sleight of hand.”

Nelson wrote to Zinke this month requesting that Florida be removed from the Interior Department’s proposal, which would begin in 2019.

He concludes: “Under Section 18 of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the Interior Department is required to balance oil and gas interests with environmental sensitivities and the policies of affected states, such as Florida’s Coastal Management Program. From everything I have discussed in this letter and all I have heard from my constituents, there is no justification for including Florida in the five-year plan. Once again, I strongly urge you to truly take Florida “off the table” by removing the Atlantic Coast, the Straits of Florida, and the entire eastern Gulf of Mexico moratorium area from consideration for future lease sales.”

Watch the live hearings beginning Monday, March 19 at 10 a.m.