Former U.S. Veterans Affairs Sec. Jim Nicholson, who led the Republican National Committee (RNC), hit Tallahassee on Wednesday as he continues leading the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) “Explore Offshore” campaign.
Nicholson and former U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 2016 election cycle, chair the campaign which API launched back in August.
Appearing in Tallahassee to speak to the Florida chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), Nicholson and David Mica, the executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, talked to Sunshine State News about offshore energy exploration.
Asked about how the “Explore Offshore” campaign is going, Nicholson said “it continues to be an uphill political battle” but was “encouraged by the coalition continuing to grow,” saying that the number of companies, elected officials and supporters have doubled.
Noting the rapid increase in technological changes in recent years from smartphones to self-driving cars, Nicholson said energy exploration technology has changed dramatically as well, making it safer than the Gulf oil spill in 2010. Nicholson and the API noted there have been changes in protocols and regulations as well, including new safety standards and new policies from the U.S. Department of the Interior.
“It has come a long way," Nicholson told Sunshine State News.
Sunshine State News asked Nicholson if rising gas prices have helped the campaign and he stressed that offshore exploration was more a long-term strategy than a short-term one.
“No seismic exploration has been done out there for 30 years,” he noted, saying that 94 percent of offshore waters were off limit. Nicholson said it‘s time for more exploration. “We think we have a lot out there but we don’t know.”
“What’s the harm?” he asked. “Why don’t we assess and plan on what we learn is out there?”
Nicholson also stressed that recent chaos in Venezuela impacting oil production in that nation while Mica noted that Mexico was increasingly aggressive in supporting offshore exploration.
Both Nicholson and Mica said that offshore efforts could provide a major boost to Florida’s economy. Over a 20 year period, they said, offshore efforts could directly add an annual $2.6 billion to the Sunshine State and, indirectly, an additional $4.5 billion annually, along with 56,000 jobs with an average salary of around $115,000 a year.
Mica also noted more exploration could boost the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was established in 1964 and is almost entirely funded by the energy industry, had been reauthorized for parks and recreation activities across the nation and for projects across Florida. Since 1964, the Land and Water Conversation Fund has sent almost $146 million to parks and recreation sites in Florida.
Focusing on the Gulf, Mica noted the area was a major training area for the military and stressed that the energy industry has worked closely with the U.S. Defense Department in those waters.
“We have to work with the military wherever we are," Mica said, insisting national security took precedence. “We have no problem working with the military."
Nicholson, a West Point graduate who served three decades in the army and the reserves and rose to the rank of colonel, noted his family’s military service. His brother John Nicholson served in the army and rose to the rank of brigadier general. His nephew John Nicholson Jr., a four-star general, commanded U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
“It is not a big issue with the military,” Nicholson said. “They are not worried about it.” Nicholson stressed that the military and energy industry have worked together for years in the Gulf. “They have coexisted for decades.”
Nicholson and Mica also noted that the Defense Department is one of the world’s leading consumers of oil and gas and understands the strategic need for expanding domestic and offshore production.
Noting that other states in the region and other nations were increasingly looking at offshore energy options, Nicholson said it would be “foolish” for Florida to be left behind.
Nicholson also weighed in on the opposition to offshore exploration.
“I don’t doubt the good intentions of the environmentalists,” Nicholson said but insisted the facts were on his side. He and Mica also stressed that offshore efforts would not impact Florida tourism and would not be visible from beaches across the Sunshine State.
While Nicholson and Webb chair the national campaign, leading the Explore Offshore efforts in Florida are former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp and Dr. Miriam Ramirez who served in the Senate of Puerto Rico. Kottkamp served under then Gov. Charlie Crist who has opposed drilling in the Gulf, even calling for a special legislative session on the issue. Crist held that special session after the Gulf oil in 2010. However, while Crist, now a member of the U.S. House, started drifting to the left and that and other issues to run for the U.S. Senate in 2010 with no party affiliation and eventually join the Democrats, Kottkamp has remained a conservative Republican.
Nicholson said that Explore Offshore will continue to push for more energy exploration at the national levels and in the Sunshine State and reaching out to share information on offshore efforts. “Florida is ground zero” for the campaign, Nicholson said.