Risk vs. Reward

Drilling off Florida's East Coast Soon to Come?

FSF Staff September 3, 2015

I recently made a long‑range trip out of Venice to fish the offshore oil rigs and drilling platforms deep in the Gulf of Mexico. It was a long haul, but the action was amazing. When are we going to start seeing oil rigs off the coast of Florida? – Joe McClintach

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Photo: istockphoto.com/morkeman

You’re absolutely right that the numerous oil rigs and drilling platforms in the Gulf attract an incredibly diverse array of fish ranging from pinfish to pelagics.

However, is the risk of expanding drilling efforts to Florida’s East Coast worth the reward? Florida has more coastline than any state in the continental U.S. and thrives on tourism. Could you imagine if the fertile coral reefs in the Keys, part of the largest living reef tract in the U.S., were covered in oil? The results would be catastrophic and the Florida Keys would be a ghost town, with residents and visitors scrambling to the mainland. The effects would be felt far and wide and the story would be one of grim hope for coastal communities throughout the entire state.

But with the hopes of scoring untapped reservoirs, oil tycoons and lobbyists press on in an attempt to tap areas along the Atlantic Ocean’s outer continental shelf. According to the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, there are an estimated 4.72 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 37.51 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas from Florida to Maine. While the eastern Gulf of Mexico is under a congressional drilling ban until 2021, the Atlantic Coast has current limits that expire in 2017. President Obama recently released the newest draft plan that outlines the leasing of federal waters, which could eventually lead to oil and natural gas drilling platforms off the Eastern Seaboard. While the plan has yet to be finalized as of press date, drilling would require a 50 mile buffer to the coast and open the Atlantic Ocean to drilling from Maryland to Georgia, but protects Florida’s coastline until at least 2021. However, the plan allows for survey companies to explore and test for oil off Florida’s East Coast.

While the BP disaster is fresh enough to remind us of the potentially devastating impacts to local communities and the health of the environment, the seismic testing and surveying necessary to pinpoint oil fields deep below the seafloor is incredibly harmful to whales, dolphins, turtles and more. In fact, our own government has admitted that the testing could harm upwards of 138,000 marine animals that have highly developed sensory systems and rely on underwater acoustics to communicate.

Unfortunately, money is the major factor in many of the most important decisions, and the choices the government makes today will greatly impact the future of both the economy and our fragile ecosystems. While we won’t see oil rigs on the horizon until at least 2021, if at all, there’s no telling what lies in store for the future of oil exploration off the coast of Florida.

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