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A Times Editorial

Drilling off Florida: It's not worth it

Sylvia Kellerman, on vacation from Germany, sits on a public beach in Dauphin Island, Ala., last May as workers in protective suits look for tar balls. Scenes like this should give Floridians pause about offshore drilling.

Associated Press (2010)

Sylvia Kellerman, on vacation from Germany, sits on a public beach in Dauphin Island, Ala., last May as workers in protective suits look for tar balls. Scenes like this should give Floridians pause about offshore drilling.

Last of a series

Today, on the first anniversary of the deadly explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, Floridians should walk along the beach and look toward the horizon. We should remember those whose livelihoods were endangered by the nation's worst environmental disaster. We should give thanks for the friendly winds and ocean currents that spared the state from further devastation. And we should vow to never put Florida at risk by allowing offshore drilling anywhere near our coast.

We should take another look at the pictures of the oil slicks in the gulf, the birds covered in black, the globs of oil on the beaches in Alabama and North Florida. We should remember the idled fishing fleets, the empty hotel rooms and the desolate Memorial Day weekend last year when tourists stayed away. We should imagine oil covering the Pinellas beaches, or seeping through the Florida Keys, or sweeping up the east coast. And we should draw a line in the sand and pledge to minimize the possibility of those nightmares becoming reality.

Memories are short. A year after the broken oil rig began spewing 206 million gallons of oil into the gulf, opinion polls show most Florida voters favor offshore drilling. The prospect of gasoline at $4 a gallon triggers short-term thinking, and the oil has been largely erased from North Florida beaches. The clogged Louisiana marshes, the disfigured fish, the oil-slicked dolphins and the microscopic oil particles deep below the gulf's surface seem less pressing. But spread oil on the Pinellas beaches or along Miami Beach on these warm sunny days, and the poll results would be different.

Allowing drilling off Florida's shores is not worth the risk, regardless of how much risk has been reduced in recent decades. It would not decrease Americans' dependence on foreign oil or lower gasoline prices. The estimated deposits in Florida's state-owned waters would meet the nation's needs for less than a week. Drilling would not produce a big windfall in state revenue, and the number of jobs it would create was estimated last year to be no more than 2,500. It's not worth risking Florida's natural beauty or its economy, no matter how many technological advances or new regulations are put in place.

The BP oil disaster is the only reason Florida isn't preparing for oil drilling now in state waters. After "drill, baby, drill!" became a 2008 campaign chant, the state House actually passed a plan in 2009 to allow drilling. Even after the Deepwater Horizion explosion last year, the Legislature refused Gov. Charlie Crist's call to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to ban drilling in state waters. That amendment is still needed. Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi won't even join a federal lawsuit against the Deepwater Horizon's operator. Governors and state lawmakers cannot be trusted to do the right thing when they are smitten with energy lobbyists and desperate for more state revenue. They are watching the opinion polls and waiting for memories to fade. If it's not next year, it will be the following year or the year after that when oil drilling resurfaces in Tallahassee.

At the moment, Florida remains protected by federal and state law. Thanks to Sen. Bill Nelson and a handful of others in Washington, a 2006 federal moratorium keeps drilling 125 miles from the Panhandle and 235 miles from Florida's west coast. For now. Florida also has a two-decade-old ban on drilling in state waters, which stretch 10 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico and 3 miles out in the Atlantic. For now. Congress and the Legislature could overturn those bans quicker than the BP oil well was capped.

The governor and members of the state Cabinet spent Tuesday afternoon fishing off Panama City, still encouraging tourists to return a year after the oil rig exploded hundreds of miles away. Imagine that postcard scene cluttered with rigs or soiled by oil, a fragile economy destroyed by political games, misguided energy policy and a thirst for oil money. Florida deserves better.

Today, let's remember those who lost their lives when the oil rig exploded and the acts of heroism by the survivors. Let's remember the damage to the water, the marshes and the beaches along the Gulf Coast. Let's remember the financial pain inflicted on hundreds of thousands of businesses and individuals still struggling to recover. And as Floridians, let's recommit ourselves to preserving our state's natural beauty and standing firm against offshore drilling. It's just not worth it.

Drilling off Florida: It's not worth it 04/19/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 9:15am]

    

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