Post-spill, Republican candidates, voters view drilling differently

Originally published by Tallahassee Times.

By Kimberly Blair, Pensacola News

Before black, gooey, and stinking crude oil from the BP rig explosion in the western Gulf of Mexico washed up on the beaches of Florida’s Panhandle last year, residents seemed only mildly concerned about expanding drilling for natural gas or oil in federal Gulf waters.

At that time, one of the most frequent worries was about the impact drilling might have on the flight-training missions of the military bases in Northwest Florida, especially from Eglin Air Force Base.

Most residents could not have fathomed an oil spill of the magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon disaster of April 20, 2010.

Still harder to envision would have been that the economic pain would spread east and south along the coastline after the world viewed blackened beaches in Pensacola, tar balls in Destin and protective boom bobbing in Apalachicola Bay and decided all of Florida was ruined.

As residents weigh the merits of the presidential candidates, offshore drilling seems to be of greater concern to voters directly impacted by the oil spill than it was before the spill.

But with a sour economy, President Obama, as well as Republican candidates, say they are willing to open up federal waters off of Florida and elsewhere in an effort to generate jobs and further the move toward independence from foreign oil.

On Dec. 14, the Obama administration allowed the oil and gas lease sale of more than 21 million acres of the Gulf. That’s on the heels of a five-year plan announced in November to expand oil and gas exploration in the Gulf.

“My impression is that the Republican candidates are all for drilling everywhere that’s possible,” said Enid Sisskin of Gulf Breeze, director of Gulf Coast Environmental Defense. “And President Obama has allowed for an extraordinary number of lease sales. After a brief drilling moratorium, it seems it’s full steam ahead. This saddens me.”

She does not believe that drilling will “be on the radar screen of most voters at all.”

“For the most part, people have moved on,” she said. “If they don’t see oil on the sand and dead fish floating in the water, most people think it’s all over, done and not a problem. I don’t think a lot of people will base their political decisions on the offshore drilling.”

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