Environmentalists Question Offshore Drilling Plan
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
People and politicians are absorbing President Obama's surprise announcement to expand offshore oil and gas drilling. The president has ended a drilling moratorium that stretched from the Gulf Coast of Florida to the Atlantic beaches of Delaware. He's also proposing more drilling in the waters north of Alaska.
Scott Finn, of member station WUSF, takes to Florida's beaches to gauge the risks and the benefits of drilling.
SCOTT FINN: Kathy Douglas power walks through the soft white sand of St. Pete Beach, past seagulls and rows of pale sunbathers soaking up the morning rays. She loves this beach so much, she moved here, and now spends her free time trying to stop offshore drilling.
Ms. KATHY DOUGLAS: So, why jeopardize all of this beauty and a tourism industry? So, why take the risk?
FINN: The risk isn't just for St. Pete Beach. A spill far offshore could foul beaches hundreds of miles away. But visitors Jane and Louis Pinto from Philadelphia, don't think it's much of a danger.
Ms. JANE PINTO: I think it's proven to be pretty safe. And if it's that far off, as long as it doesn't interfere with the tourists and the beach and everything. I think you have to do something besides just the green movement going to keep the economy going.
Mr. LOUIS PINTO: Basically to, you know, get off our dependency on foreign oil.
FINN: Environmental groups claim there's just a six-month supply of oil in these waters. But University of South Florida Geologist, Al Hine, says there may be more. The government's data is old and incomplete. And the industry is spending millions to explore deep waters far from shore.
Professor AL HINE (Geology, University of South Florida): The oil industry is, right now, to the best of my knowledge - I've seen the maps - out there shooting seismic. It's all proprietary data, it's extremely expensive. If they didn't think there was anything there, they wouldn't be spending the money to collect the data.
FINN: The oil and gas industry has responded to the president's move with muted praise and demands for much more. Here's David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council.
Mr. DAVID MICA (Florida Petroleum Council): Of course, we in the industry, are hopeful that as we move forward, that consideration can be given to some other resource-rich areas. Nonetheless, that is positive.
FINN: Used to be Democrats and Republicans in east coast states came together to oppose offshore oil and gas production, but now is the age of drill, baby, drill. Polls now show a majority of Americans - and a majority of Florida residents - supporting offshore drilling.
President Obama says increased drilling is a bridge until alternative energy is developed.
Back on St. Pete Beach, Kathy Douglas calls it something else.
Ms. DOUGLAS: I definitely think it is a crutch. And it's a crutch because, if we have fossil fuels that are so easily available, then we cease to try to develop the technology that makes alternative energy affordable to the average person.
FINN: The battle is not over yet. Now comes years of study - and lawsuits -before drilling can begin off Alaska and from the Florida gulf to the coast of Delaware.
For NPR News, I'm Scott Finn in Tampa.
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