Off-shore drilling ban goes to voters

Sheri Kotzum | 315-4353 | @DestinLogSheri |

In just a few short weeks, Florida voters will head to the polls to vote on candidates and amendments to the Florida Constitution.

The 12 constitutional amendments on this year’s ballot are the most since 1998. One of those amendments concerns an issue that is a hot topic for Floridians and environmentalists.

Amendment 9 would prohibit offshore oil and gas drilling in state-owned waters. While this amendment is a good first step for Florida, some local officials and international organizations say it’s not enough.

“While Amendment 9 would be a great step and a great showing of public opposition, it still doesn’t get to the heart of the leasing plan that’s in federal waters,” said Loryn Baughman, the U.S. communications associate for Oceana, an ocean conservation and advocacy organization.

Currently, the Gulf of Mexico is split up into three separate sections: the western, central and eastern sections. Oil drilling is allowed in the western and central sections but the eastern section is under a moratorium until 2022 as part of the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006.

“The Trump Administration released a (oil drilling) proposal in January that involves 90 percent of all U.S. waters, including the eastern Gulf,” said Hunter Miller, the Florida Gulf Coast campaign manager for Oceana.

Miller referenced the Deepwater Horizons oil spill that occurred in 2010 and said it’s still not known just how much damage was done ecologically to the fisheries and ocean environments.

“Those wounds are not yet healed,” Miller said. “ The bread and butter in Florida is tourism and any new oil drilling would be a big loss for not only our environment, but for business and communities that depend on a healthy, thriving Gulf of Mexico.”

Besides the impact oil drilling may have on fisheries and the tourism industry, the eastern section is also used for military training. For these reasons, the Destin Chamber of Commerce joined with the Florida Gulf Coast Business Coalition in opposition to expanded oil drilling.

“We had no oil on our beaches yet we were down in tourism as much as 70 percent in some places and we watched businesses that had been open for 25 years have to close because of that,” said Shane Moody, president and CEO of the Destin Chamber of Commerce, in reference to the 2010 BP oil spill.

“We have been drastically opposed to offshore drilling for years,” he added. “We have to protect the economy and Okaloosa County, and really all Northwest Florida, is so dependent on tourism and the military that you have to protect those two industries.”

If passed, Amendment 9 would ban oil drilling in state-owned waters, which would be a span of 3 miles or 10 nautical miles, depending on where you are in the state, into the Gulf. The current moratorium covers 125 miles of federal waters in the Gulf.

“We feel like half of the population is under the assumption that Amendment 9 means we’re good, when in fact, the federal waters are still under consideration,” Baughman said.

Baughman and Miller said their biggest concern is that the Federal legislators aren’t paying attention to the many Florida residents, communities and business owners who are opposed to oil drilling expansion. So far, almost 90 cities, including Destin, have made resolutions against offshore drilling.

“I think if voters in Florida pass this amendment, then it will send a good message to the elected officials at the federal level to also work to keep drilling out of federal waters as well,” Moody said.

If approved, Amendment 9 would also prohibit vaping in enclosed indoor workplaces.