In a statement clarifying the governor’s position, Scott spokeswoman Amy Graham said: “Gov. Scott has not called for an expansion of drilling in the Everglades.
“That discussion is not on the table,” Graham said.
The firm statement came after Scott, in an afternoon speech to the Economic Club of Florida, talked around a question about new drilling in the Everglades – recently raised as an idea by Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann – and didn’t answer whether he supported it.
“With regard to the Everglades, I think we have to be very cautious if there’s going to be any more drilling,” Scott said in answer to a question from the audience at the Tallahassee speech. “It’s my understanding, we haven’t had any problems to date so my goal would be to be very cautious.”
Scott also reminded the audience that there is some drilling in Collier County already, though the product is a low-grade crude, used for tar, and produced in relatively small amounts. The Sunniland field is in the Big Cypress federal wildlife preserve, adjacent to the Everglades. Drilling started there during World War II, before it was part of a federal reserve.
Environmentalists have blasted Bachmann’s suggestion that expanding the search for oil or gas in the area should be on the table.
With Scott’s remarks about being cautious, but not ruling it out in a speech on Tuesday, the head of the most high profile Everglades-focused environmental group, sent out a strong warning about the opposition that would likely emerge should someone push for new exploration.
“If there is any thought being given to expanding oil drilling into the Everglades, my suggestion to the governor is quite simple: Don’t go there,” Kirk Fordham, CEO of The Everglades Foundation, said in a statement. “Unless Gov. Scott wants to unleash a firestorm of opposition from hunters, fishermen, conservationists and millions of Floridians who depend on the Everglades for their water supply, he should abandon any notion of encouraging drilling in this sacred place.”
Fordham also noted that currently, no energy companies have floated any proposals for new drilling in the Everglades.
There’s also been no suggestion of curtailing the current drilling nearby. Through the years, environmentalists have said the amount from the Collier County drilling is small, and because of that, and because of the nature of the tar-like oil drilled there, likelihood of a damaging spill getting out of control is small.
Bachmann also didn’t directly advocate for new drilling. During a visit to Florida a couple weeks ago, the Minnesota congressman said exploration in the area should be considered if it can be done without risk.
Scott also echoed that caution on Tuesday, as he has when asked about new drilling in nearshore Gulf waters. “We aren’t going to ruin our environment,” Scott said Tuesday.