State Rep. Doug Broxson is sponsoring legislation that would allow companies to “develop oil and gas resources” in the Blackwater River State Forest.
He said he knows going in that House Bill 431 will be controversial, and he’s eager to hear from all interested parties.
“The issue is, are we willing to do our part to be energy-dependence free?” he said.
Read a copy of the bill.
Broxson, R-Midway, could have trouble finding a Senate sponsor. Sen. Greg Evers, who sponsored similar legislation last year, got brutalized when it was learned he owned 150 acres in the state forest.
He said he was accused of looking to legislate himself a windfall, even though he could drill on his private property any time he chooses.
Evers said he has no interest in touching the drilling issue again.
“After the b.s. everyone accused me of last year, I don’t think I’ll even vote on it,” said Evers, R-Baker. “Do I think it’s a good idea? We need oil, we need lower gas prices and the state needs revenue, but from a personal standpoint I don’t know what to do with it right now.”
Broxson said drilling on private land around the town of Jay in north Santa Rosa County has been going on for years “and to my knowledge has not left any environmental footprint.”
Oil was discovered in Jay in 1970. The town is about seven miles from the Blackwater River State Forest.
Kurvin Qualls, Jay’s mayor, said royalties coming to his community from drilling leases “has dropped way off in the last couple of years” but still is $10,000 to $15,000 annually.
Qualls said he and other residents support H.B. 431. They see a potential for business growth if Broxson’s legislation is passed.
“We’re all used to it around here,” he said. “There have been no ill effects from it.”
Broxson said a company called Fairways has spent two years conducting seismic tests around the forest. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also has studied the issue and found drilling could be done successfully, he said.
Broxson said Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties stand to benefit from royalties if oil is found in the forest.
The legislation, as proposed, would allow drilling only in areas well clear of sensitive waterways and habitat necessary to the survival of endangered species such as the red cockaded woodpecker, Broxson said.
He said he intends to schedule at least one public meeting in Jay to allow all sides of the drilling issue to speak.
Audubon Florida may have been the first group to voice opposition to Broxson’s bill, but has been joined by a Pensacola-based Audubon organization as well as the Sierra Club, according to Audubon Florida spokeswoman Julie Wraithmell.
“The Blackwater River State Forest is a really special place. It protects a lot of watershed for Pensacola Bay, supports some really diverse wildlife and provides habitat for some highly endangered species,” Wraithmell said.
She noted that last year’s bill was much broader in scope than Broxson’s and targeted areas across Florida.
It was “slowly amended” during last year’s session until it focused only on the Blackwater River State Forest, Wraithmell said.
“It’s an important place in Florida,” Wraithmell said of the forest. “So what makes it any less special than other parts of Florida that were taken off the table?”
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Tom McLaughlin at 850-315-4435 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomMnwfdn.