I remember it like it was yesterday. The explosion of an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico 12 years ago today shook our state to its core. I was governor of Florida at the time. Along with the rest of the nation, I looked on in horror at the images of the platform engulfed in flames, and I felt grief and anger when I learned of the 11 workers who lost their lives.
Then I learned of the situation on the seafloor that was only just beginning. It would be 87 agonizing days before the flow of oil into the gulf was finally stopped. Though Floridians were promised time and again by the oil and gas industry that the hundreds of wells — and tens of thousands of miles of pipeline that crisscross the Gulf of Mexico — posed no threat to our beaches, the truth washed up on our shores.
Ultimately, toxic oil and tar balls reached 1,300 miles of gulf shoreline. Beaches shut down, and businesses shuttered as the visitors who usually come to our state to relax and recharge stayed home. The disaster caused more than 10 million lost days of beach, fishing and boating activity. Many travelers stayed away from Florida’s gulf coast in the months after the spill, even in areas that did not have oil on their beaches, resulting in the loss of more than $500 million in the recreation industry across the gulf region. Consumers stopped trusting the quality of gulf seafood, and seafood industry sales declined by $950 million. Even housing prices in the region fell by 8 percent.
The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster made it clear: Oil spills do not respect state boundaries. But despite these risks to Florida, the oil and gas industry is still pushing to expand its offshore drilling footprint in the Gulf of Mexico. This was, is, and will remain, an existential threat to our way of life in Florida. When they drill, they spill, and coastal communities are done paying the price for Big Oil’s recklessness.
Despite repeated promises that oil spill disasters are rare, the oil and gas industry proves again and again that offshore drilling is dirty and dangerous. Spills are not isolated incidents. In the U.S. alone, there were over 6,000 oil spills between 2010 and 2020 — an average of almost two spills every day. Unfortunately, the industry’s track record proves that it is just a matter of time before their next disaster.
As Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues to disrupt global oil and gas prices, the fossil fuel industry falsely claims they need more of our precious Gulf of Mexico for dirty and dangerous offshore drilling. But the industry already has over eight million acres of unused leases. In fact, about 75 percent of their total leased acreage in the ocean is currently sitting unused. More leases are not the answer.
President Joe Biden promised to protect our coast by preventing new offshore drilling. I support that pledge and I look forward to working with the president to fully — and permanently — protect Florida from the dangers of offshore drilling.
This spring, the U.S. Department of Interior is set to release a new five-year plan for offshore drilling. By refusing to include any new leases for fossil fuel development in this plan, the president can demonstrate his commitment to protecting our coasts from future spills. As we remember the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster today, I won’t forget what’s at stake when it comes to offshore drilling. I remain committed to ensuring that something like this never happens again.
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Charlie Crist, who represents St. Petersburg in the U.S. Congress, is running as a Democrat to be governor of Florida.