NRDC Denounces Bush Plan to Offer Offshore Florida Oil Leases;
Group Says Drilling Would Threaten Florida's Waters and Beaches

WASHINGTON (July 2, 2001) - The Bush administration's proposal today to offer new oil leases for offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico poses an unacceptable and unnecessary risk to Florida's waters and beaches, said NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).

"Although the new plan shrinks the size of the area the administration originally wanted to offer for lease, any drilling in the area threatens the state's coastline and its tourism-based economy," said Lisa Speer, an NRDC senior policy analyst. "In any case, drilling off the coast of Florida is unnecessary. Most of our available offshore oil and gas is in the western and central Gulf of Mexico, and those areas are already open to leasing."

The Minerals Management Service estimates that the central and western Gulf of Mexico contain 60 percent of the undiscovered economically recoverable oil and 80 percent of the undiscovered economically recoverable natural gas in the entire U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Protecting sensitive offshore areas, including the moratorium areas, offshore Alaska and the eastern Gulf of Mexico, would still leave the vast majority of the nation's Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas available to industry.

"Oil spills are not the only environmental concern related to drilling off the coast of Florida," said Speer. "Offshore oil and gas development cause substantial environmental damage."

According to a February NRDC report, A Responsible Energy Policy for the 21st Century, offshore oil and gas drilling cause:

  • Oil spills: According to the Mineral Management Service (MMS), 3 million gallons of oil spilled from OCS oil and gas operations in 73 incidents between 1980 and 1999. Oil is extremely toxic to marine birds, mammals and commercially important fish species.

  • Onshore damage: OCS pipelines crossing coastal wetlands in the Gulf of Mexico are estimated to have destroyed more coastal salt marshes that can be found in the stretch of land running from New Jersey to Maine.

  • Water pollution: Drilling operations generate an average of 180,000 gallons of waste muds (used to lubricate drill bits and maintain downhole pressure) and drill cuttings (ground up pieces of rock) per well. Companies dump most of this untreated waste in to surrounding waters. Drilling muds contain mercury, lead, cadmium and other toxic metals. Each platform also discharges hundreds of thousands of gallons of produced water every day, according to the MMS. Produced water typically contains benzene, arsenic, lead, naphthalene, zinc and toluene, and can contain radioactive pollutants. All major field research programs on produced water have detected petroleum hydrocarbons, toxic metals and radium in the water column down-current from the discharge.

  • Air pollution: According to the MMS, drilling an average exploration well generates some 50 tons of nitrogen oxides, 13 tons of carbon monoxide, 6 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 5 tons of volatile organic hydrocarbons. Each OCS platform generates more than 50 tons of nitrogen oxides, 11 tons of carbon monoxide, 8 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 38 tones of volatile organic hydrocarbons every year.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Related NRDC Pages

Slower, Costlier and Dirtier: A Critique of the Bush Energy Plan

A Responsible Energy Policy for the 21st Century