Oil Industry’s “Explore Offshore”, coming to a beach near you?

Earlier this month, former U.S. Senator Jim Webb visited Pensacola to promote offshore oil exploration. As co-chair of Explore Offshore, a project of the American Petroleum Institute (API) that encourages the expansion of offshore oil exploration, Webb intended to counter the staunch opposition to drilling already in place along the Gulf. The crux of his argument was simple: vast improvements have been made to the oil industry and any drilling would take place “way over the sight line” so it would not “be a bother.” Floridians, however, would argue otherwise.

A recent report by Oceana revealed that 9 years after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the federal government has failed to adopt and implement comprehensive safety measures to protect us from another disaster of this scale. The report found that at least 6,500 oil spills occurred in U.S. waters between 2007 and 2017 and that these spills are typically far larger than reported. Additionally, spills such as the Taylor Energy oil spill, which has been leaking millions of barrels of oil for 14 years now, remain uncapped with no solution in sight.

Finally, Floridians know all too well that just because you cannot see an oil rig, does not mean your shores and tourist economies are safe. The BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig was off the coast of Louisiana, nowhere near Florida’s Gulf coast, and yet oil ended up on our beaches. Offshore drilling is already too close, and we cannot allow it one inch closer. Perhaps Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson said it best, “No drilling. Period.”

To read more visit: http://inweekly.net/wordpress/?p=34657   

Rick Scott, Marco Rubio urge feds to keep Florida out of off-shore drilling plans

The FGCBC was delighted to see U.S. Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio use their influence to urge the Department of Interior to exclude Florida’s Gulf Coast from the Federal offshore drilling plan. This letter was sent ahead of the much anticipated release of the Proposed (offshore drilling) Program expected to come out in the coming weeks. We must ensure that our coasts are protected.

Below is the article by Scott Powers of Florida Politics

Rick Scott, Marco Rubio urge feds to keep Florida out of off-shore drilling plans

Florida’s U.S. Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio sent a letter Wednesday to new Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt urging the department to exclude Florida’s Gulf Coast from oil and gas drilling plans, just as his predecessor had pledged to do.

Their letter reiterates the position they pressed on President Donald Trump‘s administration to keep Florida’s Gulf Coast out of the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Proposed Plan being developed. But the previous federal assurances Florida had were expressed through now former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who famously made the assurances to Scott in a brief Tallahassee visit, only to have other federal officials declare weeks later that Florida was still on the table.

Bernhardt is a former oil lobbyist. He succeeded Zinke at the start of the year.

Wednesday’s letter from Florida’s Republican Senators included a reminder of Zinke’s promise to include Florida’s gulf waters in a moratorium.

“Citing the broad support within the state for protecting Florida’s coastline from the potential risks from offshore drilling, your predecessor was publicly supportive of our request,” Scott and Rubio wrote. “In addition, the people of Florida recently demonstrated this broad support when they overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state’s constitution banning drilling for oil and natural gas in state waters.”

They cited the environmental and economic value of offshore waters to Florida, as well as the “Military Mission Line” that Scott’s predecessor, Democratic former U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, had fought for, forbidding drilling in waters offshore from Florida’s military installations.

“We remain concerned about the impacts of oil and gas activities on Florida’s marine and coastal environment, as well as the military activities critical to our national security,” Rubio and Scott wrote. “Oil spills, such as the Deepwater Horizon disaster, have demonstrated the catastrophic impacts increased oil and gas drilling around Florida could wreak on our state’s environmental resources, fisheries, tourism, and economy.

“Once again, we urge the Department to stand by your commitment to exclude the offshore waters around Florida from further consideration in its National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Proposed Plan. We welcome the opportunity to continue working with you to preserve Florida’s natural treasures and the economic benefits they help to support for generations to come,” they concluded.

Senator Scott’s Responsibility on Drilling

In January 2018, former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke held an impromptu press conference with former Governor Rick Scott. During the press conference, Zinke announced that Florida would not be included in the new OCS Oil and Gas leasing program and would be exempt from offshore drilling. The Governor used this moment to align himself with opponents of offshore drilling. Scott then went on to beat incumbent Senator Bill Nelson, a longtime environmental advocate and critic of offshore drilling.

To commemorate the one year anniversary of the joint Zinke-Scott press conference, the Tampa Bay Times published an editorial making one thing clear: the future of offshore drilling in Florida is still uncertain.  Officials, including former Secretary Zinke, have flip flopped on whether Florida is, in fact, exempt from the offshore drilling plan. There has also been discussion about what that exemption would actually entail. Scott, a former proponent of offshore drilling, will play a major role in determining the future of Florida’s coastline. Senator Scott must support extending the eastern gulf moratorium as it is the only way to guarantee that Florida’s coast is protected. The Editorial board concludes their piece by calling for Senator Scott to “be specific and unreserved about his opposition to drilling” and to work with the Florida delegation, in a bipartisan way, to protect their coast. 

Federal Government Rolling Back Safety Regulations While Expanding Offshore Drilling

As the federal government works to expand offshore drilling, they are simultaneously rolling back safety standards put in place to prevent disasters like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Matthew Brown, from the Associated Press, recently published an article analyzing these rollbacks.  

Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration called together a commission to study the causes of this disaster and produce a report on their findings. From the commission’s findings, regulations were created to prevent future catastrophic oil spills. To date, numerous important safety measures have been, or are in the process of being, rolled back including the Production Safety Systems Rule and the Well Control Rule. The Production Safety Systems Rule revision was finalized last year and no longer requires independent third party inspection of certain safety and pollution prevention equipment on offshore oil rigs. The Well Control Rule revisions are currently underway and propose “more flexibility in how companies meet safety and equipment standards.”

The Trump administration argues that these regulations are unnecessary and the revisions to these regulations will save industry more than a billion dollars. Nonetheless, another oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could threaten Florida’s clean coast economy which supports 609,899 jobs and generates $37.4 billion in GDP. This begs the question: why would we move in the direction of loosening our regulations and putting Florida’s coastal economies at risk?

To read the full article and learn more about rollbacks in the energy sector, visit: https://www.apnews.com/faca868339eb413f9a446ccb990dba05 

Floridians Still Fighting Against Drilling Off Their Coast

Back on November 6, 2018, Floridians took their opposition to the polls and voted, overwhelmingly, to amend their state constitution and make permanent a ban on offshore drilling in state waters. However, even with this new ban, many Floridians—including mayor Alan Johnson of St. Pete Beach—doubt that Florida’s coast will truly be protected from offshore drilling.

While Amendment 9 protects the immediate 3 miles off Florida’s coast, it does nothing to protect more than 200 miles of federal waters surrounding Florida. Of particular concern is the military mission line (MML), established in 2006 to ensure that military testing areas in Florida’s Gulf coast are protected from offshore drilling. If the 116th Congress does not extend the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA), which established the MML, it will expire in 2022. The expiration of GOMESA would put areas critical to United States military preparedness at risk of oil drilling and spills associated with oil activities.

In early January, U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney, a Republican from Southwest Florida and outspoken opponent of offshore drilling in Florida waters, was quick to introduce a bill to “permanently ban oil and gas leasing, preleasing, and related activities in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.” This bill would ensure that the moratorium remain in place beyond 2022.  U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa, cosponsored Rooney’s bill. This type of bi-partisan opposition to offshore drilling is common throughout Florida.

Not only did nearly 70 percent of Floridians—Republicans and Democrats—vote for Amendment 9, but 79 Florida municipalities have also passed resolutions opposing offshore drilling. Floridians know that offshore drilling threatens their livelihoods and our nation’s military readiness, and they have repeatedly shown their opposition to offshore drilling activities. The FGCBC will continue to serve as the unified business voice against offshore drilling, and we will fight to protect the moratorium on drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

To read more about the threat that offshore drilling poses to Florida, visit: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/articles/2019-01-15/offshore-oil-drilling-in-florida-still-possible-despite-constitutional-ban

Bipartisan Bill Introduced to Permanently Protect FL’s Coast from Drilling

On January 8, 2019, the Florida Coastal Protection Act of 2019 was re-introduced by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL-14) and co-sponsored by Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL-19), Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL-13), and Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL-16). This important legislation would make permanent the moratorium on oil drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, South Atlantic, and Straits of Florida planning areas. The moratorium currently in place will expire in June 2022 unless made permanent by Rep. Castor’s bill.

With their support for this latest bill, these members of Florida’s congressional delegation have reaffirmed their commitment to protecting Florida’s waters from expanded offshore drilling. The people of Florida made their opposition to offshore drilling clear in November 2018 when Amendment 9—a ban on offshore drilling in state waters— was overwhelmingly approved by Floridians. If passed, the Florida Coastal Protection Act of 2019 would build upon Amendment 9, extending the drilling protections to not just state waters, but federal waters off the coast of Florida as well.

The FGCBC applauds this bipartisan effort to protect our coasts and calls on the entire Florida Congressional Delegation to support efforts like the Florida Coastal Protection Act.

U.S. Offshore Oil Industry Focused on Eastern Gulf of Mexico

In early 2018, Secretary Zinke made a promise to then-Governor Rick Scott that Florida would be removed from the offshore oil and gas leasing program for 2019 – 2024. Although a vague promise with no clear definition as to which waters Zinke considered “Florida’s”, the statement was somewhat comforting to Floridians. Now, with Secretary Zinke’s departure imminent and a new year upon us, there is cause for concern about the future of Florida’s gulf coast. A recent S&P Global article states that the U.S. offshore oil industry is mainly focused on drilling in the Gulf and expanding into areas of the eastern Gulf of Mexico, currently under a congressional drilling moratorium until 2022. As stated in the article,  “Under the Interior’s draft proposal, there are a total of 12 Gulf of Mexico lease sales planned through 2024… the Trump administration is expected to retain all of these sales in their proposed plan expected next month, according to industry lobbyists.” So, what does this all mean for Florida’s coast? Until the final plan is released, without any mention of drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, Florida’s gulf coast is not safe. To read the full article click here.

Florida Amendment 9 Passes: Voters Approve Ban on Offshore Drilling in Florida State Waters

Florida Passes Amendment 9:

With support of 68% of voters,  Florida Amendment 9 was approved and will amend the state constitution to ban offshore oil and gas drilling. Bundled with a prohibition on e-cigarette use in indoor workplaces, this amendment bans drilling for oil or gas in Florida’s state territorial waters.

The FGCBC is pleased with the passage of Florida Amendment 9 which further highlights Floridians’ opposition to offshore drilling.  While we celebrate this important step towards protecting our coastal economies, the fight against dangerous offshore drilling continues.  As the federal government continues pushing it’s plan to expand offshore drilling, the threat of federal offshore leases still exists. The FGCBC will continue to serve as a unified business voice for the business community in protecting Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Chamber, legislators stand firm on Gulf oil-drilling ban

© OCEANA / Juan Cuetos

Citrus County Chronicle, 10/25/2018

By: Michael D. Bates

Citrus County Chamber of Commerce President Josh Wooten remembers 2010 very well: the Deepwater Horizon oil spill killed 11 men on a drilling rig and spewed about 134 million gallons of oil into waters off Louisiana.

Citrus County was spared the worst of the fallout from the spill, but the disaster made headlines far enough away that tourists shunned Florida, fearing all the state’s waters were contaminated with black goo.

Citrus County officials redoubled marketing efforts to assure tourists that businesses were open and the waters here were fine.

“Just the thought of oil coming on to our beaches affects our economy,” Wooten said.

So it’s no wonder Wooten is opposed to rumblings that President Donald Trump’s administration could lift a federal oil drilling moratorium in the eastern Gulf of Mexico that went into effect following the Deepwater incident and is set to expire in 2022.

Wooten said he is encouraged that Citrus County’s legislators — state Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, state Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, and U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden — oppose oil drilling off Florida’s coast and support extending the moratorium.

“Our delegation is strongly opposed,” Wooten said. “For Florida, it would be devastating.”

The problem, Wooten said, is that there are 435 members of Congress and many support lifting the moratorium.

“The vast majority of them are not affected by drilling in the Gulf,” Wooten said.

The Citrus County Chamber of Commerce recently passed a resolution opposing relaxation of offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and has joined with a coalition of other area chambers and business groups to strengthen that stance.

And the local chamber joined the Florida Gulf Coast Business Coalition (FGCBC), which opposes lifting the moratorium.

The risk is too great that a major oil spill would do untold damage to marine life, tourism and businesses, Wooten said.

The moratorium prevents oil drilling within 125 miles of Florida’s Gulf Coast.

On Nov. 6, people will vote on Amendment 9, which would ban oil drilling in state waters and ban vaping from electronic devices in the same indoor workplaces where smoking is now prohibited.

The pairing of these two initiatives for environmental reasons has led to head-scratching among some, and Wooten acknowledged that it might hurt the amendment’s chances.

Webster is in favor of extending the eastern Gulf moratorium before it expires in 2022, but does not  support Amendment 9 because he believes the policies proposed do not belong in the Florida Constitution.

That amendment, should it pass, would ban drilling within the first 9 miles off Florida’s coastlines, Webster said. Oil companies have not proposed coming any closer than 25 miles anyway, he said.

“If (this amendment) actually did something, I could probably be for it,” Webster said. “But in this particular case, it doesn’t do anything.”

Hunter Miller, who, along with Loryn Baughman, works at the Washington D.C.-based Oceana advocacy group, met with the Chronicle Editorial Board on Wednesday and stressed that the lifting of the moratorium would adversely affect tourism, which he called Citrus County’s “bread and butter.”

Miller said the Trump administration has also discussed removing third-party monitoring of oil and gas operations and allowing them to self-report.

That, said Miller, is analogous to the wolf guarding the hen house.

“Third-party inspections and monitoring is the least we can do,” said Miller said.

Miller and Baughman are visiting with municipalities along Florida’s west coast to stress the importance of keeping the stricter oil drilling regulations in place given federal attempts to make what they called backroom deals to remove the eastern Gulf drilling moratorium.

“We’ve got to stay strong and hold the line and don’t make any deals,” Miller said.

The National Ocean Industries Association, an offshore drilling industry trade group, praised Trump’s proposed relaxing of safety regulations.

“The revisions develop a rule that reduces unnecessary burdens placed on industry, while still maintaining world-class safety and environmental protections,” NOIA President Randall Luthi said in a statement. “We have a rule that is not a safety rollback, but instead incorporates modern technological advances.”

But FGCBC Chairman Robin Miller said the Deepwater oil spill resulted in the loss of 10 million user-days of beach, fishing and boating activity, and the impact of the oil spill on fisheries could total $8.7 billion by 2020.

“We will not allow additional offshore drilling to threaten our businesses and the healthy coasts that they rely on,” said Miller, also president/CEO of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce.

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An oil spill you’ve never heard of could become one of the biggest environmental disasters in the US

CNN, 10/24/2018

By: AJ Willingham

© Georgia Department of Natural Resources

In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil tragedy commanded the nation’s attention for months. Eleven lives were lost and communities around the Gulf of Mexico ground to a halt under hundreds of millions of gallons of oil. Yet, lurking underneath the fresh disaster, an older spill was spewing ever faithfully forth: A leak that began when another oil platform was damaged six years earlier.

The Taylor oil spill is still surging after all this time; dumping what’s believed to be tens of thousands of gallons into the Gulf per day since 2004. By some estimates, the chronic leak could soon be larger, cumulatively, than the Deepwater disaster, which dumped up to 176.4 million gallons (or 4.2 million barrels) of oil into the Gulf. That would also make the Taylor spill one of the largest offshore environmental disasters in US history.

In September, the Department of Justice submitted an independent study into the nature and volume of the spill that claims previous evaluations of the damage, submitted by the platform’s owner Taylor Energy Co. and compiled by the Coast Guard, significantly underestimated the amount of oil being let loose. According to the filing, the Taylor spill is spewing anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 gallons of oil a day.

As for how much oil has been leaked since the beginning of the spill, it’s hard to say. An estimate from SkyTruth, a satellite watchdog organization, put the total at 855,000 to 4 million gallons by the end of 2017. If you do the math from the DOJ’s filing, the number comes out astronomically higher: More than 153 million gallons over 14 years.

Dr. Oscar Garcia-Pineda, who authored the DOJ’s commissioned analysis, declined to comment to CNN, citing ongoing litigation.

A community called to action

Marylee Orr is the executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN). She says in 2010, people conducting aerial surveillance near the BP oil spill started to notice another shape, a shadow of an oil slick adjacent to the main spill that didn’t seem to match up.

“They said it couldn’t have been coming from the BP spill, and sure enough, it wasn’t,” she told CNN. “It was coming from the Taylor Well.”

Orr says it was difficult for the community to get answers as to what was happening with the spill. Local organizations, including LEAN, began conducting flyovers of the area, compiling data and pressuring Taylor Energy for answers.

“We had to do a lot of research ourselves to find out about it,” she says. “How long is it? How wide is it? These are the things we struggled with. I feel like our organization, and other folks and other organizations, made it an issue.”

“In 2010, nobody really knew. And maybe no one would know now, if there weren’t citizens and non-profit organizations who were just trying to be good stewards,” she says.

In 2012, LEAN, along with the Apalachicola Riverkeeper and several other Louisiana environmental organizations, filed suit against Taylor Energy, kicking off years of litigation between activist organizations, the oil company and various government entities. Taylor settled the lawsuit with LEAN, et. al in 2015.

Taylor Energy liquidated its oil and gas assets and ceased production and drilling in 2008. CNN has reached out toTaylor Energy for comment and has not received a response.

In a 2015 complaint filed in relation to the joint suit involving LEAN, Taylor Energy claimed the sheen at the site of the Taylor spill was “residual” and “there is no evidence to suggest” an ongoing leak. The company also claimed it had been fully compliant with US Coast Guard regulations regarding the spill.

A problem floating right under the radar

John Amos, the founder of SkyTruth, says the Taylor oil spill is a problem that’s been well-known to people in the area for years, but for some reason or another hasn’t managed to stay the national conversation.

“This is one of those dirty little stories that has been hidden for too long,” he tells CNN. “That’s the problem with these chronic, slow-moving things. They don’t slap you in the face like the BP oil spill did.”

SkyTruth has been compiling the Coast Guard’s data on the Taylor oil spill for years and using simple math to estimate the volume of oil being released.

The way it works, Amos explains, is that companies who are responsible for significant spills report the spill to the National Response Center, which is operated by the Coast Guard. The company then submits mandatory reports from regular aerial measurements of the spill, which appears to the naked eye as an iridescent sheen on the water.

To get a general idea of how much oil all of these measurements account for, Amos and his team combine the measurements with the estimated minimum thickness the oil needs to be to cast such a sheen. That number, they decided, was one micron: One one-millionth of a meter.

That one tiny, almost infinitesimal amount, expanded over thousands of feet and years of leakage, balloons to catastrophic proportions. In December 2017, SkyTruth put the composite estimate of the Taylor oil spill at 855,000 to 3,981,000 gallons.

That estimate, Amos says, is almost assuredly too low.

“The key weakness in our estimates is they are based on the reporting from the company,” he says — reporting that the Department of Justice has said was extremely under-representative.

Amos is familiar with Department of Justice’s commissioned report and says the analysis based estimates of the Taylor oil spill on satellite imagery, as opposed to Taylor Energy’s submitted reports. The discrepancies were severe. Some of the resulting measurements of the oil leakage were 17 times larger than Taylor Energy’s initial estimates.

An impact that’s hard to measure

While the numbers clearly show the Taylor oil spill is approaching, if not exceeding, the volume of the BP oil spill, that doesn’t mean the environmental impact is the same.

“This is oil that’s leaked out slowly and steadily over time, so the impact on the environment is very different,” Amos says. “One of the vexing things about the Taylor spill is that the consequences of this have been kept under wraps. There hasn’t been much public or political pressure to do the research to figure out what the damage is from a long-term, chronic leak.”

There are other impacts to consider as well: Impacts on corporate accountability, regulations and transparency in the oil industry and the viability and risks of offshore drilling, to name a few. At a time when the White House has expressed interest in expanding offshore drilling and various states have put forth strong plans of opposition — such as Oregon, where Gov. Kate Brown has just announced a plan to ban offshore drilling along Oregon’s coast, the Taylor oil spill is poised to remain a painfully relevant, if not overdue, touchstone.

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