Gov. Charlie Crist is reconsidering his opposition to drilling off Florida’s shores, a sentiment he used to share with former governers Lawton Chiles, Dem., and Jeb Bush, Rep.
Back in August 1993, disaster struck as 300,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil spilled off the shore of Tampa Bay – devastating 15 miles of Florida beaches. “We had several thousand sea turtle hatchlings die,” says D.T. Minich, head of the St. Petersburg/ Clearwater Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It was a disaster … and we don’t want that to happen again.” The effects on the environment and, most poignantly for politicians, on Florida’s precious tourism industry have kept off shore drilling initiatives at bay.
But the oil industry has been making new pushes in Washington and Tallahassee for off shore drilling. Gov. Crist says, “We’ve got to review exactly what the policy is and make sure it can provide energy diversification. But at the same time, we’ve got to protect our beautiful beaches.” The ‘policy’ he refers to is an amendment approved by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that allows oil and gas drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, 45 miles off Florida’s west coast and just 10 miles off beaches in Florida’s panhandle. The amendment is headed to the floor of the full Senate.