BRADENTON — The Manatee County Commission Tuesday unanimously agreed to direct its staff to prepare a resolution stating it does not support oil or gas drilling in state waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
The board also asked that the resolution cite the need for an impartial panel of experts to review “facts” about the issue; the importance of requiring financial assurance bonds in the event of environmental harm, and some type of marine planning similar to land-use planning in the event that oil and gas drilling occurs offshore despite the board’s opposition.
The commission, which also hoped to stay atop potential legislation affecting federally-controlled waters, is expected to vote on the resolution Nov. 3. However, it can only give its opinion, and has no power to decide the issue. State or federal legislators will ultimately decide whether and where drilling will be allowed.
“Sarasota has supported this, we should be in step with other commissions,” said Commissioner Carol Whitmore, opposing drilling. “I believe we should send a message to our legislators.”
Commissioner Ron Getman told the audience of several dozen that he had recently listened to an impressive presentation from those advocating high-tech drilling.
But he added, “However I feel about it personally, my constituents are opposed to it, and I will vote accordingly.”
Commissioner Joe McClash urged “a clear message — absolutely no,” and noted that people like him are in office to protect the area’s natural beauties.
He suggested local officials could join a regional group and use a lobbyist as U.S. legislators ponder whether to allow drilling closer to shore than has been permitted in the past.
Commissioner Larry Bustle said the challenge is the classic case of risk-versus-reward, and sought more facts before supporting unqualified objections to drilling. Commissioner Donna Hayes said she was hesitant to approve anything that said the commission absolutely opposed drilling.
None of the members of the audience spoke, but one group wore their sentiments pinned to their shirts: “Drill Means Spill” the paper signs read.
“Our beaches would be endangered,” said retiree Sue Maddox, of Cortez, before the meeting. She asserted it would not lower fuel prices in the U.S., questioned if it would really produce any jobs, and said it would jeopardize the area’s world-class beaches.
Before the 7-0 vote, the board heard a presentation from Frank Alcock, an assistant professor of political science at New College of Florida and director at the Marine Policy Institute at Sarasota’s Mote Marine Laboratory.
Alcock advised the board to consider ecological risks associated with the development of oil and gas resources, and the special vulnerability of the west Florida coast.
He outlined economic benefits of drilling, such as jobs and help for the ailing state budget; and economic risks, such as a spill that would damage tourism, the state’s largest industry and one dependent upon pristine beaches.
“There’s money to be made in oil and gas development,” he told the commissioners, but cautioned that such claims depend upon assumptions that may or may not be true.
Minimizing risks and maximizing rewards to Florida would be the best way to approach any drilling decision, he said.
Alcock said he would like to see terms of any potential deal include strong safeguards and higher royalties than a last-minute effort last spring in the Florida Legislature sought. The proposal would have lifted the ban on drilling in state waters and allowed drilling between three and 10 miles from shore in the gulf.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031 or at firstname.lastname@example.org