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Coastal Drilling in the Gulf and the Oil Spill

What can you do?
Coastal Drilling
Deepwater Horizon: Oil Spill and Aftermath

This page was created in 2010 after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It has been updated ever since, because the specter of coastal drilling is never far away, and it’s getting closer. Coastal residents beat back proposed expansion of coastal drilling during the Obama administration, but it’s back again under the Trump administration. Despite our best efforts, as of October 2018, the new rules were scheduled to take effect on 27 Dec 2018.

Efforts to ease offshore drilling rules began gaining support last spring, and on 19 June 2018 President Trump scrapped the previous policy on protecting the ocean, our coasts and the Great Lakes, and replaced it with a new executive order giving more responsibility to states for offshore oil and gas drilling, as well as prioritizing business interests ahead of the environment (and it’s the fossil fuel industry being prioritized, NOT local businesses in coastal states). The President said the measure is “rolling back excessive bureaucracy created by the previous administration.” Even worse, the order unravels coastal protection rules put in place to avoid future disasters like the Deepwater Horizon spill, such as the limitations on where and how energy companies could drill. There was no mention of the Deepwater Horizon spill in his announcement or in the executive order.

Use the quick links at the top left of the page to quickly review the background of coastal drilling and the oil spill (it won’t be quick; there is a LOT of history there), or just read on to see what action you can take now.

What can you do to prevent expansion of coastal drilling?

1. Write a letter to the editor opposing coastal drilling. Here’s how to do it. The Daily News published mine.

2. Ask your town or city to pass a resolution opposing coastal drilling. Here’s a step-by-step guide.

3. Support Oceana’s Grassroots Opposition to Offshore Drilling and Exploration in the Atlantic Ocean and Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

4. Vote “YES” on Amendment 9 in November. If approved, this amendment would ban offshore drilling for oil and natural gas on lands beneath all state waters and ban vaping (use of electronic cigarettes) in enclosed indoor workplaces.

5. Contact your federal and state Senators and Representatives and tell them you support a ban on coastal drilling both in- and off-shore.

The comment period for the proposed new coastal drilling regulations is over, but you can still make your voice heard. Phone calls and emails are the best way to communicate with your officials, because they are fast. Avoid email attachments, as such messages may be blocked or the attachments stripped off by server firewalls. Copy and paste pertinent information directly into the message.

To learn the most effective sways to get through to your elected representatives, check out our briefing, Make Your Voice Heard; the Florida Senate’s tips on effectively communicating with your legislators; and Call the Halls: Contacting Your Representatives the Smart Way, prepared by a former congressional staffer.

Here are some points you can make about your objections to the expansion of coastal drilling:

  • Seismic airgun blasting used for drilling on the ocean floor can disturb, injure or kill marine life, harm commercial fisheries, and disrupt coastal economies.
  • Coastal industrialization would threaten tourism, recreation and fishing industries.
  • More destructive oil spills are inevitable, and technology to prevent and contain spills has not kept pace with drilling technology. Although many promising new technologies have been identified since 2010, very few have been been commercially deployed yet.
  • More Americans now oppose (51%) than favor (42%) allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters. (Source)
  • Coastal residents fought down an Obama administration plan to permit oil and gas drilling off the mid- and southeastern Atlantic coast. Why must we keep fighting the same battles?
  • The proposed rollback of safety rules—put in place after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico—would pave the way for another such disaster.
  • Proposed expansion of coastal drilling puts powerful fossil-fuel interests ahead of those of coastal residents and businesses and ignores the realities of climate change. As we continue to use oil, we are contributing to coral death from ocean acidification and coral bleaching, as well as more frequent and stronger storms, and increased sea level rise. Expanding oil drilling into protected areas will not lower gas prices, or get us energy independence (see below for details). There is simply not enough oil to do that. Promises of royalty money to the state are also greatly exaggerated. This drilling will however, threaten Florida’s resources and its coastal economies.
  • The Florida and Loop currents in the Gulf spread vital nutrients to marine life off Florida’s west coast, so if the currents are exposed to oil, it could expose Florida’s beaches and marine habitats to oil contamination.
  • Florida’s mangroves and corals provide habitat for over 40 bird species, over 500 fish species, sea turtles, dolphins, manatees, sharks and commercially-important shellfish like spiny lobsters, oysters, clams and shrimp. These habitats are particularly vulnerable to oil.

Here is the contact information for your elected officials:

Florida Elected Official Contact Information
Federal State Senators State Representatives
Senator Bill Nelson
DC: 202-224-5274
District: 850-942-8415
Doug Broxson (District 1)
Tallahassee: 850-487-5001
District: 850-595-1036
Use the “Email the Senator” button here.
Jayer Williamson (District 3)
Tallahassee: 850-717-5003
District: 850-995-3698
Senator Marco Rubio
DC: 202-224-3041
District: 850-433-2603
George Gainer (District 2)
Tallahassee: 850-487-5002
District: 850-747-5454
Use the “Email the Senator” button here.
Mel Ponder (District 4)
Tallahassee: 850-717-5004
District: 850-717-5004
Representative Matt Gaetz
DC: 202-225-4136
District: 850-479-9394
  Brad Drake (District 5)
Tallahassee: 850-717-5005
District: 850-951-0547


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Coastal Drilling

The Trump Administration’s plan to allow drilling along coasts of the United States (except Florida—for the time being) will begin moving ahead in 2018, if not modified. Leagues at local, state and national level all oppose drilling for gas or oil in US coastal waters, because that will take our country in the wrong direction in addressing climate change, and the heightened spill risks of such operations far outweigh any potential reward. The comment period on the proposed drilling plan ended on 9 March, but comments can be viewed online here.

Gulf Coast Depth ChartThis is a subject of keen interest along the Gulf Coast. However, the term “coastal” is a bit nebulous, so it’s helpful to understand the difference between “offshore” and “inshore.” Any fisherman will tell you that inshore fishing is closer to the coast—typically no more than 20–30 miles out—where the water is much shallower, the weather more predictable, and the fishing more abundant. By contrast, offshore locations are more than 30 miles from the coast, where the water is much deeper. Just remember: The Gulf is only 932 miles wide at its widest point, and here on the Emerald Coast you’d have to sail out over 140 miles to find water deeper than 120 feet.

The natives of the Gulf Coast are particularly attuned to the potential negative impacts of both in- and off-shore drilling, because what happens offshore will eventually make it to shore, as we learned to our sorrow in 2010. That year the Deepwater Horizon oil rig—located 41 miles off the Louisiana coast—exploded on April 20th, killing 11 people and fouling our coast from Louisiana to the western side of the Florida peninsula. As of Feb 2014, BP’s cumulative total costs from the oil spill hit $42.7 billion (including the $20 billion compensation fund). Four years later the first BP reparations payments are finally flowing to the Panhandle in 2018.

With that much money at stake, why take the risk? There are two reasons.

  • The first reason is energy independence. The western and central Gulf of Mexico—including Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama—is one of the major petroleum-producing areas of the United States, accounting for 17% of US crude oil production and 5% of US natural gas production. Additionally, over 45% of total US petroleum refining capacity is located along the Gulf Coast (where Hurricane Katrina caused substantial oil spills), along with 51% of total US natural gas processing plant capacity. (Source)
  • The second reason is money. BP profits took a pretty steep (nearly 22%) hit after the oil spill, but the oil giant still reported a $13.4 billion profit in 2013. Shareholders did lose value, but there was plenty of value left to spare. Fossil fuel interests have a lot more money and lawyers to promote their interests than the average citizen, and that’s why we must constantly be on guard.

We all know that money talks, but what about claims for energy independence cloaked in the guise of “national security?” These charts from the American Petroleum Institute and the US Energy Information Administration tell the story. As of 2017 we were extracting about 29 million cubic feet of gas per year, so there’s about 12 years of easy gas left. There’s more, but the cost will have to go up, and we’ll need to find more to make it proved. As of 2017 we were extracting about 3.5 billion barrels of oil domestically per year. So there’s about 10 years or so of easy oil. Same applies. Current federal attempts to expand coastal drilling will line the pockets of the fossil fuel industry at the expense of coastal residents and businesses while essentially kicking the can down the road about 12 years. Then what?

Proved US Oil & Gas Reserves as of 2016

The federal government has not allowed drilling in federal waters in the eastern Gulf of Mexico—which includes offshore Florida and part of offshore Alabama—since 1995. In March 2010, President Obama announced plans to allow drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, in federal waters more than 125 miles from the coasts of Alabama and Florida. However, the Obama administration reversed its plans after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and imposed a moratorium on new drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico for at least seven years (i.e., no earlier than Dec 2017). (Source)

On 19 June President Trump scrapped the previous administration’s policy on protecting the ocean, our coasts and the Great Lakes, and replaced it with a new executive order giving more responsibility to states for offshore oil and gas drilling, as well as prioritizing business interests ahead of the environment (and it’s the fossil fuel industry being prioritized, NOT local businesses in coastal states). This order unravels coastal protection rules put in place to avoid future disasters like the Deepwater Horizon spill, such as limitations placed on where and how energy companies could drill. There was no mention of the Deepwater Horizon spill in President Trump’s announcement or in the executive order.

Suffice to say, those of us who live along the Emerald Coast are concerned about the specter of coastal drilling, and have been for many years. In November 2009—five months before the Deepwater Horizon disaster—the Northwest Florida Daily news took a timely (one might even say “clairvoyant”) in-depth look at the issue. Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3, and then study the anatomy of an oil rig graphic to learn more about the potential repercussions on our community.

Other news about coastal drilling (oldest to newest)

Executive Order 13547, Stewardship of the Oceans, Our Coasts, and the Great Lakes (7/19/10)
A Collaborative Effort to Prevent the Next Spill (NYT, 11/2/10)
Remarks by the President on America’s Energy Security (3/30/11)
Offshore drilling permit times shorter, agency says (3/14/12)
Deepwater Horizon exposed serious gaps in deepwater oil spill research (4/23/12)
Trump’s risky offshore oil strategy (NYT, 7/5/17)
Trump's Offshore Drilling Plan—What You Need to Know (National Geographic, 1/4/18)
Plan to expand offshore drilling draws cheers, jeers (NWFDN, 1/5/18)
Opinion: Say no to coastal drilling (NYT, 1/5/18)
Trump administration says no oil drilling off Florida coast (NWFDN, 1/9/18)
Trump changes course: Florida gets pass on drilling plan (NWFDN, 1/10/18)
Drilling ban applauded, but questions remain (NWFDN, 1/10/18)
Senator: Drilling plan carve-out for Florida may be illegal (NWFDN, 1/11/18)
Not just Florida: Tourism big in other states opposing coastal drilling (Reuters, 1/16/18)
Nearly every governor with ocean coastline opposes Trump's drilling proposal (CNN, 1/12/18)
More Americans oppose than favor increased offshore drilling (Pew Research, 1/30/18)
Zinke defends Florida offshore drilling exemption (The Hill, 3/13/18)
California claims bias after Florida’s exempted from Trump’s offshore drilling plan (NBC News, 4/7/18)
Drilling, vaping bans heading to voters (NWFDN, 4/17/18)
GUEST EDITORIAL: Offshore well rules should be made law (NWFDN, 4/30/18)
Florida’s House delegation opposes offshore drilling (NWFDN, 5/18/18)  
New report says Trump administration's offshore drilling expansion threatens 11 Florida parks (Orlando Weekly, 5/25/18)
Former Okaloosa commissioner joins push for offshore drilling (NWFDN, 6/7/18)
EDITORIAL: Big Oil sends a local to do its bidding (NWFDN, 6/8/18)
GUEST COLUMN: Write your representative over offshore drilling: (NWFDN, 6/10/18)
Executive Order Regarding the Ocean Policy to Advance the Economic, Security, and Environmental Interests of the United States (6/19/18)
Trump scraps Obama policy on protecting oceans, Great Lakes (6/21/18)

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Deepwater Horizon: Oil Spill and Aftermath

Links and Resources

Deepwater Horizon Explosion and Oil Spill: April 20, 2010

State and Federal Activity on the Gulf Oil Spill 

On 28 September 2010, the federal Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (aka “Gulf Coast Task Force” and “Restore the Gulf”) released its report entitled America’s Gulf Coast: A Long Term Recovery Plan after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The Council comprises governors from the five affected Gulf States, the Secretaries from the U.S. Departments of the Interior, Commerce, Agriculture and Homeland Security, as well as the Secretary of the Army and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Gulf States recommended and President Obama appointed the Secretary of Commerce as the Council’s Chair. Their mission is to build a framework that will quickly connect local and state reconstruction plans with the resources they need to rebuild and preserve the Gulf’s unique ecosystem, to create sustained economic development, and to give opportunities back to those whose livelihoods have been shattered by the spill. On 9 Dec 2015 the Council finally approved an Initial Funded Priorities List—after three years of deliberations.

Florida’s State Emergency Response Team issued its report on 2 March 2011. 

The National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling ceased operations on March 11, 2011. The Commission released its final report on 11 January 2011. You can also read the Commission's final recommendations. Basically the report recognized that oil-drilling technology is quickly outstripping advancements in safety and spill mitigation, and the Commission concluded: “Our recommendations—for a new approach to risk assessment and management; a new, independent agency responsible for safety and environmental review of offshore drilling; stronger environmental review and enforcement; a reorientation of spill response and containment planning; and a revision of liability rules to better protect victims and provide proper incentives to industry—aim to establish an oversight regime that is sufficiently strong, expert, well-resourced, and flexible to prevent the next disaster, not the last. The oil and gas industry—remarkable for its technological innovation and productivity—needs government oversight and regulation that can keep pace.” 

The Commission Chief Counsel’s Report was released 17 February 2011. The report stated, “The Macondo [Deepwater Horizon] blowout happened because a number of separate risk factors, oversights, and outright mistakes combined to overwhelm the safeguards meant to prevent such an event. The Chief Counsel’s team identified a number of technical risk factors in the design, execution, and testing of the Macondo well. The team was also able to trace all of these failures back to an overarching failure of management. (emphasis added) Better management of personnel, risk, and communications by BP and its contractors would almost certainly have prevented the blowout. The Macondo disaster was not inevitable.” 

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BP settles lawsuit

On 18 April 2012, BP announced it had agreed to a class action settlement in the 2010 Gulf oil spill disaster. The settlement will be paid from a $20 billion trust fund set up to compensate thousands of businesses and individuals who made claims after the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Oxfam America Weighs in on Gulf Coast Recovery Efforts 

On 24 August 2010, Oxfam America released a report entitled One Gulf, Resilient Gulf: A plan for coastal community recovery, which it prepared in conjunction with many other community and civic organizations. The report urges Congress and the President to move quickly to support a robust long-term recovery plan, and to better protect coastal communities by improving the safety and oversight of the use of the Outer Continental Shelf and offshore drilling. The report identifies resilience — the capacity of human, natural, and physical systems to adapt to and recover from change — as a critical defining factor in the recovery plan. According to the report’s authors, this will require additional investments to safeguard the region’s rich cultural, environmental, and economic resources, and to spur much-needed diversification in the region’s economy that will reduce its historic dependence on “extractive” industries.

May 2014: BP tries to get out of paying compensation 

In an April op-ed BP America Chairman and President John Minge claimed that “No company has done more to help a region recover after an industrial accident.” Perhaps so, but we haven’t forgotten that it was the same company’s negligence that caused the “accident” in the first place. Considering 11 people died in the initial explosion, cleaning up the mess it made was the least BP could do under the circumstances. Patting itself on the back therefore seems more than a little inappropriate. After finally settling a class action lawsuit in 2012, it seems BP has had a change of heart. The company is now trying to get out of paying the compensation that was part of the settlement agreement. Read all about it

September 2014: Judge rules that BP was negligent in oil spill 

BP acted “recklessly” and bears most of the responsibility for the nation’s worst offshore oil spill, a federal judge concluded Thursday (9/4/14), exposing the energy giant to roughly $18 billions of dollars in additional penalties. Of course BP says it will appeal. Read all about it.

June 2015: Deadline to file personal or business claims 

On 23 August 2010, the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) replaced BP as the administrator of BP’s $20 billion compensation fund. The GCCF was replaced by the Deepwater Horizon Claims Center on 4 June 2012. The final claim filing deadline was midnight on 8 June 2015, and the Deepwater Horizon Economic and Property Damages Settlement Program is no longer accepting new claim forms from businesses or individuals.

January 2016: Status Update

So what has actually been done to implement the recommendations from all the experts? Well, as noted above, Restore the Gulf finally approved a funded priorities list on 9 Dec 2015—after three years of deliberations. The discredited Minerals Management Service was renamed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, or BOEMRE (unaffectionately known as “BUMMER” in Louisiana). Florida Governor Rick Scott visited Panama City and went fishing in Destin. And of course, BP maintains its commitment to the Gulf.

Visit the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) website on Deepwater Horizon (DWH) and check out the interactive map of DWH Projects that have been funded in the state of Florida. You can also review FAQs and a summary of submitted projects in either PDF, map or Excel format. DEP continues to accept project proposals through its website. These will be considered for funding under RESTORE Act, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Restoration Program and National Fish & Wildlife Federation (NFWF). Suggest a new project for consideration here, but be advised the form only works with Internet Explorer.

In the meantime, more than 3,200 active oil and gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico have been abandoned, and are currently unplugged and unprotected. This is in addition to the 27,000 abandoned wells that have been plugged. Following is a list of links to articles and resources about coastal drilling and our way forward—that is, our way back to the Gulf as we knew it.

2018 Update

BP settlement money has finally started flowing to the Panhandle. Triumph Gulf Coast is the non-profit charged with distributing $1.5 billion in economic damages from Deepwater Horizon oil spill. You can keep up with their meetings and research the various proposals already submitted.

On 19 June President Trump scrapped the previous administration’s policy on protecting the ocean, our coasts and the Great Lakes, and replaced it with a new executive order giving more responsibility to states for offshore oil and gas drilling, as well as prioritizing business interests ahead of the environment (and it’s the fossil fuel industry being prioritized, NOT local businesses in coastal states). This order unravels coastal protection rules put in place to avoid future disasters like the Deepwater Horizon spill, such as limitations placed on where and how energy companies could drill. There was no mention of the Deepwater Horizon spill in President Trump’s announcement or in the executive order.

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Oil Spill Aftermath: Links and Resources (oldest to newest)

BP Florida Gulf Restoration page
Get moving on compensating bay area businesses for oil spill (10/9/10) 
Editorial: Giving oil spill victims more time to evaluate losses (11/2/10)
Surfrider Foundation: Beach contamination video (3/15/2011)
NOAA information and resources (4/20/11)
NOLA Times-Picayune: One year later links (4/20/11)
The Atlantic: Conversation with Carl Safina (4/20/2011)
Property Casualty 360: Interview with Ken Feinberg (4/20/11)
Inside Counsel: BP still facing immense legal troubles (4/1/11)
One year later: Deepwater Horizon by the numbers (4/21/11)
The Economist: The Shores of Recovery (4/20/11)
The Smithsonian: Scientists Discuss Deepwater Horizon (4/19/11)
Gulf Oil Spill Anniversary: Spills Around The World Since Deepwater Horizon (4/20/12)
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill two year anniversary (picture gallery) (4/20/12)
BP Oil Spill: Two Years Later (4/23/12)
NFWF Announces More Than $100 Million for Restoration Projects on the Gulf Coast (11/14/13)
US to roll back safety rules created after Deepwater Horizon spill (NYT, 12/28/17)
EDITORIAL: The spill crisis, five years later (NWFDN, 4/17/15)
Louisiana five years after BP oil spill: 'It's not going back to normal no time soon' (4/18/15)  
Deepwater Horizon five years later: lessons learned (CFact.org, 4/20/15)
Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Five Years Later (NOAA, 4/20/15) 
The Deepwater Horizon Disaster Was Five Years Ago Today. Here’s What We Still Don't Know. (ThinkProgress.org, 4/20/15)
BP settlement money starts flowing to Panhandle (NWFDN, 4/30/18)      

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