REDINGTON SHORES – City and town governments along the Pinellas beaches are expected to pass resolutions in the coming weeks opposing seismic blasting and potential offshore drilling for gas and oil in the Gulf of Mexico.
Hunter Miller, the Southwest Florida campaign organizer for Oceana, an international organization that oversees issues involving the world’s oceans, urged members of the Barrier Island Governmental Council Jan. 31 to author and submit resolutions to the U.S. Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management during a 60-day comment period that ends March 9.
The latest proposal includes all waters 3- to 24-miles offshore of Alaska, Oregon south to Southern California, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic seaboard up to Maine.
With enough comments against the latest proposal, it is hoped another oil disaster, such as Deepwater Horizon in 2010, can be avoided off the Florida beaches.
BOEM, which is under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of the Interior, establishes leasing areas in five-year increments. The process takes place over several stages and is followed by a public comment period.
In 2016, President Barack Obama removed the Atlantic and Arctic oceans off the table for the 2017 to 2022 plan. Then, last March, the Trump Administration issued an executive order to aggressively pursue offshore drilling, restarting the whole process.
“So, we’re going to restart the whole thing again and people like you are being asked to submit your comments and weigh in,” said Miller. “On Jan. 4, BOEM released its draft of a revised plan from 2018 to 2024. Just as we suspected, that plan includes all U.S. waters and that’s where we are.”
Thanks to recent efforts by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke tweeted Florida is off the table. However, just a week or two later, the acting director of BOEM testified to members of Congress and the Natural Resources subcommittee that no formal decision has been made as far as which states would be in or out.
“So, there’s a little bit of contradiction there,” said Miller. “This plan is the largest proposal for offshore oil and gas leases ever proposed by any president. It would give energy companies access to more than a billion acres off the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Pacific and Arctic coasts.”
If approved, the process would begin with seismic air gun blasting that would be used to map the ocean floor.
“Large seismic ships would tow these air guns and every 10 seconds the seismic guns would release a dynamite-like blast,” said Miller. “Sound waves travel down, penetrate through the ocean floor and bounce back up that would be received by hydrophones.”
Miller said seismic blasting is an important issue because it’s dangerous to mammals and marine fisheries.
“Across the nation there are already 175 resolutions opposing seismic and offshore drilling,” he said. “Forty-nine communities in Florida have passed resolutions opposing it.”
Sarah Hanson, a spokeswoman for Congressman Charlie Crist, said Florida is still officially in the plan.
“But the plan goes through several revisions over roughly a two-year period,” she said. “There are opportunities Florida could be written out of it but we don’t know when that would happen or how. There’s really no precedent, which is why the Congressman is taking the secretary (Zinke) at his word for now. He’s hoping this is moving in the right direction but he is urging everyone to remain vigilant. He intends to keep up the pressure on the administration to make sure Florida is finally taken out of the plan.”
Hanson said Crist has submitted two letters to Zinke requesting the waters off Florida be excluded from the plan. She said at least one of those letters, which was led by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, will be submitted as official comment.
Last week, Crist co-introduced a bill called the Safe Coasts, Oceans and Seaside Towns Act, which codifies two safety regulations implemented after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion.
The legislation has received wide support from environmental and coastal community business groups, including endorsements from Oceana, Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast, California League of Conservation Voters, and the Animal Welfare Institute.
“I was Florida’s governor when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and dumped more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico,” Crist said in a press release. “The full extent of the environmental and economic damages of this tragedy are still unknown. We should learn from past mistakes, not hand over the fate of our coasts and oceans to the oil and gas industry.”
Deepwater Horizon spilled 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. BP has since paid out more than $65 billion in claims and clean-up costs. The total impact of damages are still unknown.
In other action
• Pinellas County Coastal Resources Manager Andy Squires, said mobilizing for the next beach nourishment project would begin April 1. He said work will begin at Sunshine Beach in Treasure Island, move south to Sunset Beach, then up to Redington Shores and move north to Sand Key. Squires said work on the Sand Key beach would begin in late May to early June. The project is targeted for completion in October.
• Belleair Beach Mayor Leslie Notaro will take over as chairwoman of the BIG-C during the Feb. 28 meeting at North Redington Beach Town Hall.
• Beach communities will again receive $37.5 million from Pinellas County during allocation of the new Penny for Pinellas from 2020 to 2029. Beach leaders are seeking to have the funds “front-loaded” for use with infrastructure projects. The current penny was allocated with “back-end loading,” requiring towns to complete projects and then seek reimbursement from the county.
• The Club at Treasure Island will host the annual Mayor’s Prayer Lunch Friday, Feb. 23. Tickets are available in advance through the Treasure Island and Madeira Beach Chamber of Commerce.