The idea of opening of the eastern Gulf of Mexico to offshore oil drilling has been debated for years, and in July this year, as gas prices hit record highs, talk of increasing the number of offshore water leases available to energy companies resurfaced.

On Sept. 22, at an event hosted by Healthy Gulf, environmentalists will discuss the latest offshore drilling plans in the Gulf of Mexico and the threat to Florida’s coast and beaches. The evening event, dubbed Protect Florida’s Coast, will be held at Idyll Hounds Brewing at 845 Serenoa Road in Santa Rosa Beach.

A similar event took place in Pensacola last week.

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The Biden administration has proposed to conduct 10 auctions for oil concessions in the Gulf of Mexico and another in Cook Inlet in Alaska. And while the plan, which is expected to run between 2023 and 2028, aims to ban exploration off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, it does not necessarily exclude the eastern Gulf.

The Democratic president’s proposal surfaced months after U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz made headlines as the only U.S. House Republican to oppose the American Energy Independence from Russia Act, a bill introduced by members of the Republican House in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

This bill would also have expanded offshore drilling opportunities in the Gulf of Mexico.

To date, offshore drilling in the Gulf has been limited to the central and western areas, primarily off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas. Gaetz strongly opposed drilling in the eastern Gulf because, he said, it would impact a wide range of above-water tests used by Eglin Air Force Base and d Other Military Installations in Northwest Florida.

“Launching experimental missiles at oil rigs is as dumb as it is dumb,” Gaetz said when asked about his vote.

In September 2020, then-President Donald Trump, who recognized Gaetz as a key ally, signed an executive order extending the existing ban on offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf until 2032. This order is not binding under the Biden administration.

It is within the framework of all this activity that speakers from Healthy Gulf and Surfrider Emerald Coast will address the challenges of oil drilling during the Protecting Florida’s Coast event.

Christian Wagley, a representative for Healthy Gulf based in Pensacola, said the five-year drilling plan proposed by the Biden administration will be the focus of discussions.

“Healthy Gulf and many others oppose further lease sales in the Gulf since the industry already has untapped leases of 8 million acres,” Wagley said.

The discussion will focus on the ongoing impacts of drilling in terms of air and water quality, as well as climate change, he said. Event organizers will also discuss the threat to Florida beaches and coastal economies from extensive drilling, with even drilling occurring immediately offshore in other states.

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which originated off the coast of Louisiana, spilled millions of gallons of oil into the gulf and stained beaches in northwest Florida, beaches in Florida County. Escambia being the most affected.

Official comments on the Biden administration’s proposal are expected Oct. 6, Wagley said, and organizers from Protecting Florida’s Coast will provide information on how Northwest Florida residents can make their voices heard.

Another topic of discussion, Wagley said, will be the June 30 end of a congressional moratorium on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf and proposed legislation to extend the moratorium or make it permanent.

The Protecting Florida’s Coast program kicks off at 7 p.m. with the presentation of four short films highlighting grassroots movements around drilling, the impacts of the 2010 BP oil disaster, and the clean energy revolution.