Suncoast Waterkeeper and Manatee Fish & Game Association object to the Trump administration’s push to expand oil and gas leases to all U.S. coastal waters, including the Gulf of Mexico.
Strong in their conviction, they invited public officials and the community to a Feb. 20 hearing to become part of the federal record.
About 30 people spoke against the plan at Fishermen’s Hall in Cortez during a program that was hosted by the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage.
The U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Management is taking comments until March 9 on a 2019-24 leasing plan.
Pushing for “energy dominance,” the administration has proposed a new five-year National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program to expand gas and oil drilling to 90 percent of federal waters — areas blocked under the Obama administration.
Suncoast Waterkeeper represents about 2,600 members from Port Charlotte to Tampa with a mission to educate and advocate for clean waterways.
Manatee Fish & Game Association, formed in 1935, supports “keeping our shores oil free” and “good laws to protect fish and wildlife,” said Merri-Lynn Parker, secretary/treasurer of the 30-member group.
Andre Mele of Suncoast Waterkeeper announced the Manatee County Board of Commissioners responded to invitations by approving a motion 7-0 to oppose oil and gas drilling in state waters in February, reupping a 2010 position. He called it a “powerful statement” from “very pro-development officials” even considering the state waters’ limitation.
“What did a turtle ever do to you?” said Marsha Wikle, kayaker and Sierra Club member, fearing another horrific oil spill.
The April 20, 2010, Deep Horizon explosion and spill, considered the worst in U.S. history, continued for months and released 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf.
Tens of thousands of birds, 170,000 turtles, and “any number of dolphins” died from the spill, Wikle said, adding BP was fined $19 billion.
“We can’t allow the expansion of drilling to ruin what makes Florida enticing,” said Sierra Club member Sandy Ripberger.
John Isham, an ocean researcher, added “his biggest concern” is increasing noise in the ocean, which impacts the food chain and “eventually effect all of us.”
Sarasota attorney David Shapiro, running for the seat held by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, offered his position. “I represented people impacted by the BP oil spill. I saw the devastation — what it did to our environment, the foul, fish everything…. I’ll do anything and everything I can to help the environment. This is what I pledge.”
Mele pointed to seven major oil spills since 1976 and predicted “an economic catastrophe” with more rigs offshore, adding a drone operating in the Gulf has recently found giant vortexes of oil.
In January, Gov. Rick Scott announced a deal with U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to spare Florida from drilling expansion. A Feb. 8 letter from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection restated Scott’s opposition.
Florida offshore drilling will be analyzed as part of the current proposal, according to Tracey Moriarty, BOEM spokeswoman in a Feb. 22 email.
A description of the plan — and where comments can be registered at the “finish line”— is online at boem.gov/National-Program-Virtual-Room.
Comments also may be made to Kelly Hammerle, National OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program Manager, BOEM, 45600 Woodland Road, Sterling VA 20166.
Trump administration proposes new oil leasing
Plans to open more submerged lands off Florida’s west coast to gas and oil leasing are in the hopper in Washington, D.C.
The Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act currently bans the leases within 125 miles off western Florida, according to Bureau of Ocean Energy Management spokeswoman Tracey Moriarty.
In a Feb. 22 email, Moriarty reported 2,772 gas and oil leases in the Gulf, including 37 in an eastern planning area.
The 2019-24 plan under review proposes 10 new leases, two per year, she said.
The proposed federal plan marks the first time since 1988 a majority of the eastern planning area off the Florida’s west coast is proposed for leasing, according to BOEM.
— Kathy Prucnell