U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced Thursday that offshore drilling will be expanded to multiple new areas off the U.S. coast in the coming years. One of those areas is the Gulf of Mexico.
The expanded drilling program will be conducted between 2019 and 2024.
Twelve locations throughout the Gulf of Mexico, which is one of the most productive basins for oil in the world, will be opened up for drilling. Nineteen locations could potentially become available off the Alaska coast, as well as locations off the California coast.
Despite these developments, Florida is still protected by the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006, which prevents drilling off the Florida coast until the act expires in 2023.
The new five-year drilling plan could also open new areas of oil and gas exploration off the East Coast in places from Georgia to Maine, where drilling has been blocked for decades.
However, there is plenty of opposition to the plan. Sen. Bill Nelson, a long-time opponent of allowing oil rigs too close to Florida’s coast, often cites the state’s unique environment, its multi-billion dollar, tourism-driven economy and the vital national military training areas in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico as reasons why drilling should not be allowed near Florida’s shores.
“This plan is an assault on Florida’s economy, our national security, the will of the public and the environment. This proposal defies all common sense and I will do everything I can to defeat it,” he said.
Sen. Marco Rubio also weighed in on the plan, releasing the following statement:
“I have long supported the moratorium in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, which is not slated to expire until 2022, and introduced legislation to extend the moratorium until 2027. As the Department of Interior works to finalize their draft plan, I urge Secretary Zinke to recognize the Florida Congressional delegation’s bipartisan efforts to maintain and extend the moratorium in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, and remove this area for future planning purposes.”
Legislators insist that this is just a starting point, however. The entire process will take months to finalize. There will also be a 60-day comment period.
Those in favor of the plan point out that no leasing will be available in marine sanctuaries. They also insist that it will provide better access to public lands.
Kevin Doyle, the Florida Executive Director for Consumer Energy Alliance, delivered the following statement:
“CEA advocates for an all of the above energy policy to ensure that Florida’s small businesses and families have access to reliable and affordable energy. We praise Secretary Ryan Zinke and the U.S. Department of Interior for their forward-thinking proposal regarding the new Draft Proposed 5-Year National Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing Program for the years 2019 to 2024.
“Regarding energy development in Florida, we need to ensure that there is a balanced approach that takes into account the military community and its training programs, Florida’s tourism industry, our pristine environment and the responsible development of energy resources. With the technology available, we are confident that we can reach that balance which would result in a win for the millions of families, farms and small businesses in Florida that depend on reliable affordable energy.”
It’s the most expansive offshore drilling proposal in decades and comes in response to President Donald Trump’s executive order in April encouraging more drilling rights in federal waters.
WINK News reporter John-Carlos Estrada has more details: