Legislation that would make permanent a moratorium on gas and oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast heads to the U.S. House of Representatives after members of the House Natural Resources Committee voted to keep the drilling ban.
The Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act of 2019 extends the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006, which expires in 2022 if Congress does nothing. That 2006 legislation bans oil and gas leasing within 125 miles off the Florida coastline.
“The threat of offshore drilling is an existential problem to the west coast of Florida and probably all of Florida and our tourist economy,” said bill sponsor Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Naples), whose district encompasses a portion of South Florida. “So, I’m doing all I can do to get that moratorium which expires in a couple of years made permanent.”
This bill comes just months after Florida voters passed Amendment 9, which prohibits drilling for gas and oil within three miles off the state’s coasts. That amendment only covers state waters, while the Rooney bill covers federal waters.
The fact that voters approved the amendment will help garner support for his bill in the House, which already has bipartisan support, Rooney told the South Florida Media Network.
“It helps a lot. Sixty nine percent of Floridians just last November voted to make sure that offshore drilling doesn’t take place off of our coast,” he said.
As of January 2018, the Gulf of Mexico was home to 175 oil rigs, second in the world to the North Sea, which has 184. The United States ranks No. One worldwide in oil drilling. A majority of the rigs in the United States are currently located off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas.
“A lot of our Republicans have been a little less than enthusiastic about it; but some of them have come around too,” said Rooney, even while several other Republicans expressed opposition to the bill on the grounds that Florida should not be able to have a say over federal property.
On the other hand, the bill has widespread support among Democrats. Rep. Darren Soto (D-Orlando) expressed his support at the hearing before the vote, saying, “Just because there is oil doesn’t mean we have to drill. Sometimes it is better to preserve, it’s better to make sure that we are protecting.”
The House is expected to take up the bill after it returns from its July 4 recess.
William Prego is a reporter in the South Florida Media Network’s Washington, D.C., Bureau.