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SURVEY: Offshore Drilling (August 2019)

Q&A: Protecting Florida’s Beaches, Our Tourism Economy and Military Operations

Q: What coastal protections does Florida currently have regarding offshore energy production?

A: Until January 2022, offshore oil and gas drilling is prohibited by federal law from taking place east of the Military Mission Line or within 125 miles of Florida’s Gulf Coast. Oil and gas drilling are prohibited by state law from taking place within 3 nautical miles of Florida’s Atlantic Coast and the Florida Straits. In 2018, Florida residents voted to implement a constitutional amendment that would prohibit any oil and gas development in all state waters.

Q: How does the 2018 voter approved constitutional ballot measure impact oil and gas development in Florida waters?

A: In 2018, Florida voters approved a prohibition of exploration and extraction of oil or natural gas beneath all state waters that lie between the mean high-water line and the outermost boundaries of the state’s territorial seas. The constitutional prohibition does not apply to the transportation of oil and gas, nor does it prohibit extraction outside of Florida’s state boundaries. This is an important distinction because not all the coastal water visible from Florida’s shore is Florida’s to regulate. Much of it is under federal protection and purview.

Q: Is it true that starting in 2022, the state of Florida will only have the ability to restrict offshore energy development in its own waters?

A: The current federal moratorium on oil and gas development off of Florida’s Gulf Coast will expire in June 2022. Unless a new agreement is reached or law enacted, Florida will only be able to restrict energy development to Florida waters. That is why the Florida Chamber is insisting on an agreement.

Protecting Florida’s Tourism:

Q: How far out in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean do Florida state waters reach?

A: Florida state waters extend from the shore to at least 3 nautical miles out in the Atlantic and from the shore to 9 nautical miles out in the Gulf of Mexico.

Q: How far into the waters off Florida’s beaches can you see?

A: If you’re standing on the average Florida beach, you can see a little over 3 miles out into the ocean. If you’re on the 10th floor of a Florida beachfront hotel, you can generally see about 15 miles out. If you’re on a balcony at Miami’s 85-story Panorama Tower (Florida’s tallest building), you can see about 38 miles out into the ocean.

Q: What is tourism’s economic impact on Florida’s economy?

A: Florida’s world-class, tourism-based economy supports 1.4 million jobs and brings more than $90 billion to Florida each year. Last year more than 124.6 million people visited Florida, and an additional 50 million will visit us annually in future years.

Protecting Florida’s Military:

Q: How does the United States military utilize Florida’s waters?

A: Missions utilizing the Eastern Gulf of Mexico include research activity, technology demonstrations, air-to-air and air-to-ground (surface) missile testing (including the use of drone targets), combat surface ship qualification trials, mine warfare testing and training, and explosive ordnance disposal training.

Q: Who oversees Florida’s military operations? Do the Department of Defense, and the Department of Interior (the federal agency which oversees offshore energy development) coordinate to ensure that military training is not impaired?

A: The U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Interior coordinate and have established strict safety standards under a 1983 memorandum of agreement, which ensures that the military’s critical missions are not impaired by commercial or recreational activities. These standards have been successfully protecting both military operations and civilian activity in federal waters for decades.

Q: How big of an economic impact does the military play in Florida’s economy?

A: The military and defense sectors contribute $84.9 billion annually to Florida’s economy.

What Other States are Doing:

Q: How are Florida’s neighboring states reacting to offshore energy production?

A: The economies of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are strongly tied to the jobs directly and indirectly created by the offshore energy industry. These states have seen offshore development off their coast for more than 60 years. Additionally, these states receive a portion of federal revenue from the proceeds of offshore lease sales. Louisiana received a total of $94.7 million in funding in 2018, while Texas, Mississippi and Alabama received $57.9 million, $31.7 million and $30.6 million respectively.

To learn more, read Florida is Special. Let’s Keep it That Way, or contact David Hart at dhart@flchamber.com.

Florida is Special. Let’s Keep it That Way

One thing most Floridians can agree on is that Florida is special. We enjoy beautiful weather, one of the nation’s best education systems, incredible beaches, a military infrastructure vital to our way of life, a $1 trillion and growing annual economy and a shared spirit of optimism about our future.

However, it is going to take a strong collective effort on all our parts to truly secure Florida’s future.

That’s because in 2022, the current moratorium on drilling for oil virtually anywhere in the Gulf of Mexico expires.

If Congress fails to generate bipartisan support, and the current moratorium expires, oil platforms could be sitting just nine miles off Florida’s coastline, where Florida waters end and federal waters begin.

Perhaps that fact alone got your attention. I hope so.

But there’s more to the story.

There will be no protections in place unless, before 2022, a majority of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives and a supermajority of 60 bipartisan members of the U.S. Senate reach agreement on some form of extension that the President would agree to sign into law.

Given the partisanship and political stalemate right now in our nation’s capital, this is no small order.

President Donald Trump has called for the United States to achieve not just energy independence, but energy dominance. This is certainly a worthy goal, to ensure we are not constantly held hostage for our energy needs by regimes that rarely have our interests at heart, like Venezuela and Iran.

A major building block of the Trump Administration’s energy dominance goal is the upcoming Department of Interior five-year plan.

As Floridians, we would be wise to assume that opening up new energy exploration areas in the Gulf of Mexico could be part of the federal plan.

Equally, we must understand that the combination of this forthcoming plan and the impending end to the drilling moratorium requires us to act to set the terms which will protect Florida and its unparalleled natural beauty.

We don’t doubt that somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, far from our shores, there are energy resources that can be safely extracted and contribute to the economy and energy security of the U.S. There are already 2,557 active leases and 3,200 active oil drilling platforms in the Gulf now, distant from our beaches and ocean views.

To provide certainty for Florida, leaders in Congress must begin meaningful negotiations to address this challenge. We understand that this will be a difficult process and that some compromises will be necessary. However, the Florida Chamber of Commerce is prepared to support a negotiated plan so long as it meets the following requirements:

  1. Protects Florida’s beautiful beaches and natural habitats, which are the core of our quality of life and a major reason why 124.6 million people visited Florida last year – and an additional 50 million will visit us annually.
  2. Does no harm to our world-class, tourism-based economy, which supports 1.4 million jobs and brings more than $90 billion to our state each year.
  3. Exists in harmony with the current and future military operations – including Space Force – that take place in the Gulf of Mexico. Those missions are vital to our national security, and the military and defense sectors contribute $84.9 billion annually to our economy.

These are the principles we will advocate be addressed in any negotiations in Congress, and they should inform any deal that sets forth what will happen after 2022. We also will ensure that any final deal guarantees that if exploration does happen in the Gulf, it will only happen at a significant enough distance away to protect what makes Florida special.

We must not lose sight of the reality that if Congress fails to act it means the current moratorium expires in barely three years, and we could be seeing oil rigs from Naples, Clearwater, Destin or any of our beautiful beaches.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce is and will always be engaged in protecting Florida’s interests and securing its future, so we will vigorously seek support for a compromise that meets our three requirements.

Florida is special and we must unite as Floridians to keep it that way. If we all work together, we can secure a deal that meets these three non-negotiable principles and protects the natural beauty we all love.

Mark Wilson is President and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at mwilson@flchamber.com.