By Michael Peltier
The News Service of Florida
With efforts stalled over whether to allow drilling off Florida’s Gulf Coast, the fight may go directly to Florida voters.
At least one group is attempting to craft and promote a constitutional amendment to not only allow but require the state to push for the discovery and recovery of oil in the Gulf of Mexico up to 125 miles from shore.
The group, Floridaoil.org, is taking its message of energy self-sufficiency to anyone who will listen.
“We need to start drilling and pumping our own oil,” said Don Baldauf, a home security business owner in Bradenton and founder of the group. “Regardless of how you feel about renewable energy, we’re still going to need it for other things beyond gas and fuel.”
The group is seeking legal help to craft one or more proposed amendments that would use state submerged lands laws to expand Florida waters out to 125 miles and require the state to issue permits to U.S. companies to drill for oil.
The group is far from getting on the ballot – Floridaoil.org is operating on a shoestring. Since opening its campaign account last fall, the group has raised $310 according to the most recent Division of Election figures.
But despite its diminutive size, the group has still gotten more than a little attention in its quest to write a proposal and secure nearly 700,000 signatures to get it on the ballot. Months after gas prices climbed over $4 a gallon and crude oil approached 4150 a barrel last summer, the call for increased domestic production intensified.
Oil discovered should be used domestically, backers contend. The group has also advocated requiring the state to permit at least one new refinery within the state.
”Our country has lost control of its destiny and it is time to take that control back,” said Baldauf, whose political resume includes an unsuccessful run for a Congressional seat last year as an unaffiliated candidate.
A proposal to lift a 20-year ban on drilling off Florida’s Gulf Coast popped up during the recently concluded session. A stealth amendment offered by Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park and introduced in a House committee took opponents by surprise.
The measure passed the House but died after Senate President Jeff Atwater refused to consider it, saying the issue needed a more deliberate vetting.
“The issue has great traction,” said David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, which represents the industry but is not involved with the Floridaoil.org amendment drive.
Mica has spoken to Baldauf and is familiar with the group’s efforts but has made no decision on whether to join forces.
“There is some merit to letting it go on its own,” Mica said. “That way, it’s not an industry-backed effort.”
For his part, Baldauf knows he faces long odds. Any proposal must pass Supreme Court muster and receive statewide support, a tall order before a February 1 deadline if it is to be included on the 2010 ballot.
“If nothing else, it makes for great theater,” Baldauf said.