Florida Offshore Oil Drilling
Graham warns against drilling near Florida
By William Gibson
Offshore drilling is inherently risky and should not be brought closer to Florida’s shores, former Senator Bob Graham concluded on Tuesday after leading a federal investigation of the BP oil spill.
Graham, co-chairman of the president’s commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, said the explosion and environmental damage in the Gulf last summer showed that the current no-drilling buffer zone around Florida should be maintained.
Graham, a Democrat from Miami Lakes, commented on the implications for Florida in an interview after releasing the commission’s recommendations for reducing the risk of another massive spill. The commission focused on ways to improve safety rather than where to allow drilling, so the buffer zone was not part of its recommendations.
Nevertheless, Graham, a former Florida governor and senator, said the state has much at stake in the on-going debate about offshore drilling.
“We’ve been wise enough not to drill in our own property (state waters off the coast) and politically able to maintain a buffer in terms of federal waters,” he said.
The recommendations, even if followed, would not guarantee that Florida’s fragile environment and tourism industry would be sheltered from another spill, he said.
“I don’t believe that anybody can say categorically that any set of recommendations, if totally adopted, would give us zero risk that this would occur again,” he said. “It’s an inherently risky industry. It’s the nature of the beast. What we can do is reduce the probability of it occurring.”
Oil slicks from the BP spill polluted much of the Gulf Coast and reached Florida’s western Panhandle, fouling beaches and forcing a temporary fishing ban. The damage, reported worldwide, ruined the Panhandle’s summer tourist season.
The spreading oil slicks, however, never reached the rest of Florida, mostly because they remained north of a powerful loop current, which brings water through the Florida Straits and up the east coast near beaches in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Graham was part of an old guard of Florida politics that opposed drilling near the state’s shores. In recent years, however, some Republican leaders have called for expanded offshore drilling to reduce American dependence on foreign energy sources.
South Florida Congressman Allen West, for example, called the BP spill “an isolated incident” and urged more drilling to increase U.S. supplies and to try to curb the cost of gasoline.
Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio issued a statement on Tuesday saying “so long as it can be done safely, I support offshore energy exploration as a way to meet our energy needs, create jobs and reduce our dependency on foreign oil from unstable countries.”
Graham said the answer to oil dependence is to conserve energy and look to alternatives.
“At the current level of proven reserves and our current consumption of petroleum, if America were to go to a `drill, baby, drill’ philosophy, we would exhaust our reserves by approximately 2031,” he said.
The spill, he said, shows “the absolute imperative of moving aggressively toward reducing America’s almost insatiable appetite for petroleum.”