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Flashback: Coalition of the Willing

Natural gas well off the Alabama coast.

Natural gas well off the Alabama coast.

Photo by Jason Norman

Talking energy policy, politicians like to trumpet national security. But when it comes to the risks of offshore drilling, they mostly head for the hills.

That was the situation in our January 2001 issue when we reported, in “Florida Burns Alabama in Gas War,” how Florida pulled the rug out from under an offshore lease proposal promising energy windfalls for both states.

Oil and gas companies for years had been chomping at the bit to get at the Destin Dome, a rich natural gas prospect offshore of the line between Florida and Alabama. When the Department of the Interior finally announced the bid, however, most of the Florida side of the prospect was excluded, leaving only a sliver of the Dome.

Offshore lease plans are mapped by the feds every five years, and under the Clinton Administration, the Dome was included as part of a 5.9 million-acre tract that would have been the first federal lease sale off the Florida coast in more than a decade.

The summer following the 2000 election — won by a sliver of Florida votes — the Department of the Interior reduced the Dome sales by 75 percent, taking Florida and the Dome out of the deal. 

Former oil and gas man George W. Bush and his brother, Jeb, the governor of Florida, were, of course, listening closely to the anti-drilling majority in Florida.

At the same time, those Florida residents were celebrating the construction of a $1.6 billion trans-Gulf pipeline to pump natural gas from Mobile to Tampa. 

The Department of the Interior still polls state officials on their willingness to see offshore drilling off their coasts, and their opinions weigh heavily in fed decisions. California and the rest of the Pacific Coast states have been shy of offshore drilling ever since the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969, which launched the first Earth Day the following year. Atlantic Coast states have followed their lead.

In the long national energy security pump-up after 9/11, there was a nudge toward a Florida Gulf lease sale in 2010, but the timing was off. BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig blew up in April, just months before the sale. The plan was scrapped. To nail things shut, Congress put a moratorium on east Gulf drilling until 2022.

So the coalition of the willing in America’s battle for energy security remains — Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Chris McFadyen is the editorial director of Business Alabama.

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