Senator moves against seismic testing off Florida

As the Obama administration moves forward with a plan to allow oil and gas explorers to conduct testing off Florida’s Atlantic coast, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) is filing legislation aimed at blocking the plan.

Nelson, a long-time opponent of allowing oil rigs to operate close to Florida’s coast, on Friday will be unveiling his Senate bill that would prohibit seismic testing off the state’s east coast. Seismic tests are considered a first step toward oil drilling.

“Drilling off Florida’s Atlantic coast would be unwise and impractical,” Nelson said. “It would interfere with military operations off of Jacksonville and rocket launches from Kennedy Space Center and Patrick Air Force base, not to mention the environmental hazards it would pose.

“If you’re not going to drill there, then why do the seismic testing?” Nelson asked.

The administration announced last year that it had approved seismic testing off the entire Atlantic coast to search for possible future drilling sites.

The use of seismic testing is not without controversy, mainly because of the unknown effect it has on marine life. Just last month, 75 of the world’s leading ocean scientists wrote to President Obama urging him to halt the use of seismic testing off much of the U.S. Atlantic coast. Among the 75 were Drs. Edmund Gerstein and Denise Herzing, both of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida.

“This activity represents a significant threat to marine life throughout the region,” the scientists wrote.

Their letter follows one Nelson and others sent the president last summer, shortly after the administration announced its plan to allow oil drillers to conduct seismic testing. Nelson also made a similar appeal to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and urged local officials across Florida to speak out against the plan.

So far, 18 coastal communities have passed resolutions in opposition to seismic testing, among them Melbourne, Cocoa Beach, Cape Canaveral and New Smyrna Beach.

And just last week, the administration of Florida Gov. Rick Scott asked the federal government to postpone any seismic testing.

Right now, there is a ban on putting drilling rigs off Florida’s Gulf Coast until 2022 that’s part of legislation Nelson was instrumental in passing in 2006. That moratorium, however, does not apply to the Atlantic coast.

Nelson cites the state’s tourism-driven economy that’s dependent on clean beaches and pollution-free water, the vital military training areas off Florida’s shore and the launch activities taking place at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as reasons why drilling should not be allowed near Florida’s coast.

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