On Jan. 22, State Representative Doug Broxton filed a bill that would allow for drilling and mining of oil and gas resources at Blackwater River State Forest.

HB 431 would give the governor’s Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund the ability to partner with a business entity to develop oil and gas resources on the Blackwater River State Forest if the “development yields near-term revenues for the state,” according to the bill.

The bill excludes environmentally sensitive areas, according to Broxson, such as creek beds.

Similar bills have been proposed in years past; however, none have passed. Last year, HB 695 faced opposition and died on a second reading in March. Previously in the Senate, a version of the bill also died in a committee.

Broxson said he expects this bill to be more successful than the previous since it only includes Blackwater. Previous bills included other state forests, he said.

One major benefit of the drilling, according to Broxson, would be the royalties it would produce to help local schools and communities — Broxson estimated between $30 and $60 million. He also mentioned, depending on how much was found, the creation of several hundred jobs.

“The motivation to find pockets of oil has increased,” Broxson said. “We’re in a war for energy.”

After hearing word of the proposed bill, local residents have created a Facebook page under the name “Save Blackwater River State Forest” and have also created a petition on change.org stating that they want Blackwater River State Forest to remain pristine and untouched by drilling and mining. As of Wednesday afternoon, the petition had 751 supporters.

“As a concerned citizen, I will protect Blackwater River State Forest from drilling and mining. I also pledge to keep a close eye on future bills proposed and supported by you, Rep. Broxson,” the petition states.

Blackwater River State Park opened in 1968 with 360 acres and acquired an additional 230 acres in 1981 from the Division of Forestry.

Sen. Greg Evers said his overall opinion of the bill is positive.

“It will build jobs and help with the economy,” he said. “With gas prices right now, I think it’s a good thing.”

Broxson stated that he believes this drilling could be done without disturbing the nature of the state park thanks to new technology.

“The evidence is there. We can go 30 miles from Milton (to Jay) and get reams of testimony about how safe it is,” he said.

For more information on the bill, visit www.myfloridahouse.gov/ and search 431 under bills.

For more information on the petition opposing the bill, go to Facebook.com and search “Save Blackwater River State Forest”