Thrasher, Negron Split on Offshore Drilling
With the fate of offshore drilling expected to be determined in the Florida Senate next session, the chamber’s newest members are split on whether it makes sense to explore for oil and gas in state waters off Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Newly elected Senators John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, and Joe Negron, R-Stuart, are, at least for now, on opposite sides of the issue. Thrasher told News Service of Florida on Monday he supports exploring for oil offshore. Meanwhile, Negron says he is opposed, but could be convinced.
At first blush, it’s a one-person gain for oil drilling advocates. Last session, Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville and Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, senior members of the 40-member chamber, both opposed a House-backed plan to allow drilling in state water between three and 10 miles offshore in the Gulf.
The proposal was introduced in the waning days of the 2009 session, by Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park. The measure, HB 1219, passed the House on a 70-43 vote largely along party lines on April 27, only a few days after being introduced. The measure gave the governor and Cabinet the ability to authorize drilling at a time when Florida needs to wean itself from foreign oil.
The bill died in the Senate after President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, said he would not bring it up so late in the session. Since then, Cannon has scheduled a number of public hearings and committee meetings with the intention of introducing another bill.
“I do not support having oil rigs three miles off our beaches,” said Negron, who replaced Pruitt, who opposed efforts to drill offshore.
Environmental issues aside, Negron said he also has concerns that drilling in state waters of the eastern Gulf could jeopardize military training exercises in the region. Unless those concerns can be addressed, Negron said he would oppose drilling for that reason as well.
Though oil rigs would not likely become part of the seaside scenery in Negron’s Atlantic Coastal district, he said his constituents are very wary of putting Florida’s tourism economy at risk. But he is keeping an open mind as details become available between now and the 2010 Legislative session.
“If there is new technology out there that makes it safer… I’m willing to consider it,” Negron said.
Thrasher, meanwhile, said he would vote differently then his predecessor, King.
"I'm for pushing ahead," said Thrasher, who last spring was a lobbyist for Florida Energy Associates, the group of independent oil producers promoting the oil-drilling proposal.
"Those who say, `no way to oil-drilling,' I don't agree with. Sure, I have my questions about it. But I think it's important we have this conversation. My gut tells me that we should go ahead with it."
While Pruitt also opposed the bill last year, he said Monday that he supports the concept of Gulf drilling. He opposed legislation last year because it came up at the end of the session.
“The bill came out of the blue and few people knew anything about it,” Pruitt said. “Philosophically I have no opposition to reducing our reliance on foreign oil.”