Keep oil drilling out of the Eastern Gulf

f t # e
Keep Oil Drilling out of the Eastern Gulf, November 17, 2017 | Chris Berardi (202-897-7700) | comments

Offshore drilling and related activities, including seismic testing, have no place in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

The moratorium on exploration in the eastern Gulf established in 2006 will expire in 2022 unless Congress acts. It is imperative for the future of Florida and our tourism-based economy that this bipartisan effort to extend the moratorium succeed.

I believe I have some credibility on this issue, having served on the board of one of the world’s leading land and offshore drilling firms for almost twenty years, Helmerich & Payne Inc. In addition to its own offshore rigs, Helmerich & Payne was the contractor on Shell Oil’s huge MARS platform in the Gulf and owned a major interest in Atwood Oceanics, a premier operator of drill ships. We have our own family working interests in oil and gas, and I served for many years on the board of Laredo Petroleum Inc., and our private exploration and production company based in Bogota, Colombia.

The eastern Gulf is of critical importance to our national security because of the flight training and testing that takes place from our numerous bases in the Panhandle and around Tampa to the Naval Air Station Key West. The eastern Gulf of Mexico is the largest training ground for the United States military in the world. For this reason, the Department of Defense fully supports extending the moratorium on offshore drilling. In response to a letter to the Department of Defense, which 14 of my Florida colleagues and I sent in March, A.M. Kurta, the acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, responded it is of “vital importance” to maintain the moratorium.

Aside from security concerns, offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf will adversely affect our environment. Seismic testing to evaluate conditions for oil exploration could harm fish and marine mammal populations. 

The industrial infrastructure needed to support offshore drilling, and ultimately offshore production of oil and gas, is wholly incompatible with existing tourist-centric development. Homes, condominiums and apartments line our coasts and bays. There is no place in our shallow bays, full of recreational vessels, to locate the tank farms, docks, steel mooring balls, and other equipment which are necessary to support the numerous offshore supply vessels and barges supplying the rigs and platforms.

All of this would radically undermine Florida’s coastal ecosystems.

These environmental concerns directly affect Florida’s economy and residents. Our economies depend on tourism, which requires clean beaches and healthy ecosystems. Florida is known for its pristine beaches and a pleasant, non-commercial environment. We have deliberately strong zoning laws for parking, green spaces, trees and shrubs and commercial structures, and we have made significant investments in conservation lands.

Lifting the moratorium on offshore drilling would destroy our status as a premier tourist destination and undermine these investments.

Further, failure to stop this pernicious menace to our environment now, before it expires, will carry a high political cost for Republicans in Florida. The four or five counties which consistently deliver high vote totals for Republican candidates, including for President Donald Trump in 2016, also are the most united and vociferously opposed to offshore drilling. I wonder what adverse effect caving to the energy industry and threatening our pristine Florida environment might have on our grassroots enthusiasm.  

Lifting the moratorium on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf would be a bad deal for the people and ecosystems of Florida and a bad deal for the United States military. I will continue to fight on behalf my constituents to keep the moratorium.

f t # e