State Rep. Doug Broxson withdrew his bill that would have allowed drilling for oil and gas in the Blackwater River State Forest in Holt, Florida.
"We think the public needs to know much more about what would happen," Broxson told the News Journal Wednesday. "The timing is not perfect for pursuing this."
The bill, filed in January 2013, proposed to allow private companies to drill for oil and gas in the 190,000-acre park.
The bill would have allowed the governor's Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund the ability to enter into a contract with oil development companies. The bill also stated that drilling and contracts would bring in royalties and other revenue for the state.
Broxson said he did not anticipate that opposition to the idea would be so fierce. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission granted approval for exploration in the state park – as long as the area's "natural assets" were not disturbed, he said.
David Guest, the Florida managing attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice, said the idea of drilling in a state park that holds one of the nation's purest sand-bottom rivers was ludicrous.
"It's really a symbolic statement that says screw the environment," Guest said to Rigzone in an interview. "Operators can get to these resources that are held underneath the forest through directional drilling - there's really no need to do this at all."
Many opponents drew comparisons between the idea of drilling in the forest to the 2010 BP oil spill.
"Having that experience of Deepwater Horizon only two years ago, it defies logic," Guest said.
The comparison baffled Broxson.
"We certainly miscalculated that. There's no separation in their thinking of the two of what might happen on land – which is almost impossible – with what happened in the Gulf a mile deep," Broxson told News Journal.
Even with the fierce opposition, many feel that the state would benefit if this bill had passed.
"The Gulf Coast is home to a wide variety of wildlife and oil and gas companies that generally co-exist together well," stated Environmental Division Lead at Wood Group Mustang Philip Black. "The governmental safety and environmental regulations will never prevent every single incident but they do provide a strong incentive for compliance due to the high civil fines and criminal penalties they can impose."
Broxson is moving forward with the Feb. 25 town hall meeting he has set for the issue in Jay, Florida – a town in Santa Rosa County. Broxson wants to ensure that the community, estimated at 151,372 by in 2010 by the U.S. Census Bureau, is aware of the issue and answer any questions residents may have.
“I look forward to continuing this discussion on Monday and in the future as a means to safeguard our quality of life and achieve maximum economic benefit for every citizen in Northwest Florida,” he said.
The bill, which was under review in the state House's Energy & Utilities Subcommittee before being withdrew, is similar to a bill first introduced by state Rep. Clay Ford, R-Pensacola. That bill died before being passed. A similar bill in the state Senate, also granting the governor's office the same abilities in state lands across the state was never passed.
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