Muddy waters on the offshore drilling debate

An advance copy of Sen. Bill Nelson’s talk on the floor of the Senate today shows he plans to raise many issues, like why the industry needs more acreage to drill when it has millions of untouched acres under lease and why a 2006 compromise to delay East Gulf of Mexico drilling is now being thrown out.
They are all very reasonable questions to ask, but he’ll also raise the specter of Lousiana’s less-than-Miami-beach-like coastline as a warning about what they can expect in Florida. Exhibit A in that mind-set is a story written by a Florida paper last year about a visit to Galveston.
This idea that the coasts of Louisiana and Texas aren’t so pretty because of oil and gas drilling may not be so accurate. With the exception of a few oddball days it’s true the beaches and waters here aren’t pristine, but it has a lot more to do with geography than industry.
Our beaches are the result of sands and sediments that come from the Mississippi River where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The sediment flow to the West and sort of drops off as you get close to the border with Mexico (thus South Padre Island). All points East of the Mississippi get spared the big-time sediments and thus have the prettier beaches.
Nelson’s full comments follow below:

Nelson’s prepared remarks:
June 11, 2009
Mr. President. The Senate Energy Committee is poised to approve legislation that would allow oil drilling 10 miles off the coast of Florida.
I’d like to make a few points about this wise, new energy policy.
We all know increased domestic drilling would not decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil, but let’s say for a moment that it would.
And even though bad oil spills and shipping accidents still take place, let’s say for a moment that technological innovations have made all drilling operations safe.
If the United States wishes to remain dependent on oil, shouldn’t we drill anywhere we can?
How about in Colorado for oil shale?
And the five Great Lakes should have plenty of black gold?
And how about oil-rich the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?
No. Instead, some of my colleagues in the Senate now propose to open waters off the coast of Florida.
Three years ago, Congress opened up eight million new acres to drilling in exchange for keeping the Eastern Gulf off limits to drilling until 2022. We made an agreement, and that agreement is the current law: no drilling that would destroy Florida’s economy within at least 100 miles of the shore.
Why are some people pushing to change this so soon after its passage?
The oil industry, that’s why.
The oil industry already has 32 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico that are leased but are not even being drilled.
And even though the industry handpicked areas opened up in 2006, it now feels it can make more of a profit by drilling closer to Florida’s coast. I don’t think Florida should have to trash its coastline and its economy just so big oil can increase its profit margin.
Of course there are far more serious implications to national security if we were to do this.
The eastern Gulf of Mexico is the last unfettered training range for all our military pilots and the Pentagon has stated drilling activities are incompatible with training.
Now, let me tell you what we would do to Florida if the Congress approved this so-called energy policy bill.
Look at this picture. This is the coastline of Louisiana.
Drilling 10 miles off the coast of Florida would destroy the nation’s fourth largest state. It would convert Florida’s world class beaches to an industrial coastline. We would trade in the world top beaches and tourist draws for an industrial wasteland dotted with transmission pipes and storage tanks and oil rigs.
And, as I said, we would take away the United State’s military’s last unfettered testing and training range – and during a time of war.
Supporters of opening up the Eastern Gulf say we need to do it to help get America off of foreign oil. Tell me, then, why there isn’t a clause in the drilling amendment specifying that all oil and natural gas produced in the Eastern Gulf must stay in the United States for domestic consumption?
The truth is that any oil could be sent to other countries, reducing our use of foreign oil by not one single drop.
If we really want to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, we need to increase our use of alternative energy and energy-efficient cars and appliances.
Recently, gas prices have started to rise again because of greedy speculators who have been able to bid up crude oil prices largely because of a legal loophole that, in effect, unleashed insider trading like condo-flipping since 2001.
Some argue that we need revenue sharing in order to incentivize states to drill. These are the same people who say that drilling will provide jobs and bolster states’ local economies. If drilling were so great for local economies, wouldn’t the state work to encourage drilling without revenue sharing?
Some say that states deserve this money because they absorb the risks of drilling. But you cannot argue that drilling is safe at the same time as arguing states need an incentive to accept its risks.
They say that the state deserving a portion of revenue generated from drilling in Federal lands is a matter of states’ rights. Let’s talk about states’ rights. Floridians elected two people – Senator Martinez and myself – to represent them in the United States Senate. Both of us strongly oppose drilling in the Eastern Gulf.
Some Gulf Coast states such as Louisiana have embraced drilling, and Congress agreed to help prop them up with revenue sharing. But because Louisiana doesn’t have beaches and the tourism economy that goes along with it, it isn’t risking important jobs and revenue.
Florida’s Gulf Coast has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. These beaches account for a substantial portion of Florida’s $60 billion tourism economy.
Would you visit a beach with oil operations along its shores? ( Show spill poster ) This photo is of a relatively small oil spill from a shipping accident in Pinellas County, Florida in 1993. It simply doesn’t make sense to jeopardize Florida’s tourism industry.
Mr. President, I’d like read an editorial that appeared in today’s St. Petersburg Times, one of Florida’s largest newspapers.

“There is a rhythm to summer that has become as predictable in Washington as it is predatory and senseless: Schools let out, vacation season begins, gas prices rise and opportunists in Congress — encouraged by Big Oil — cite the pain at the pump to push for expanding offshore drilling, jeopardizing Florida’s priceless coastline.
Do any of the 13 members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee who voted to expand drilling Tuesday realize that the nation is moving in the opposite direction and seeking to reduce reliance on fossil fuels with a cleaner energy policy?
The committee approved an amendment to a Senate energy bill that would allow gas and oil drilling just 45 miles off Florida’s west coast and even closer off the Florida Panhandle. It would wipe out a 2006 congressional compromise that bans drilling within 230 miles of Tampa Bay and 100 miles of the Panhandle through 2022. That exclusion zone is a reasonable line of defense. Florida’s beaches are vital to the state’s status as a world-class tourist destination.
Allowing drilling within 10 miles of the eastern Gulf Coast also would jeopardize an important training area for the Air Force and Navy.
As an energy strategy, the measure makes the Senate look hopelessly out of date. Twenty-eight states, in the absence of leadership in Washington, have set targets for renewable energy production. The purpose of energy legislation in both houses of Congress is to fashion a way to leverage billions of tax dollars to curb emissions of global-warming greenhouse gases, build more fuel-efficient cars and to foster investment in alternative energies.
The drilling amendment is an example of a time-honored tactic of tacking on something distasteful to broadly supported legislation. The bill, which committee members expect to pass today, also unfortunately encourages some Republican state legislators who have unsuccessfully sought to open state waters in the gulf to drilling. If the 2006 federal line falls, there will be no stopping the shortsighted in Tallahassee.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., has vowed to filibuster the bill if it comes to that. The state’s congressional delegation needs to show united opposition, and House members need to demand Speaker Nancy Pelosi stand by her commitment to the 2006 drill-free zone. Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running to succeed Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., also needs to quit waffling and oppose this. And Defense Secretary Robert Gates should explain the implications for naval training and national security should offshore rigs and their attendant infrastructure spring up along the training ranges for America’s military pilots. The energy bill is supposed to chart a new strategy going forward. The Senate is headed backward.

Mark my words; I will continue to fight to ensure that any legislation bringing drilling within ten miles of Florida’s Gulf coast will not see the light of day here in the Senate.