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Florida Offshore Oil Drilling: Point, Counter Point

From the Jacksonville Times Union comes two views on the topic.

Jacksonville Times Union
Is it finally time to drill for oil of Florida's coast?

Two views on the topic.

Advocates for oil drilling off the coast of Florida appear to be gathering momentum as the state seeks much-needed revenue and more jobs. Those in favor also say Florida's oil could help reduce America's dependence on foreign oil. Opponents of offshore drilling, which include environmentalists and many in the tourism industry, warn that oil spills that could pollute beaches and devastate tourism, a key segment of the state's economy. Whether to allow drilling is expected to be a major issue next spring in the Legislature, where the incoming House speaker is a strong champion of offshore drilling. Below are arguments on both sides of the issue.

By Douglas A. Daniels
Chief operating officer of Florida Energy Associates, an advocacy group lobbying for offshore drilling

Presidents Nixon and Carter first emphasized the need for energy independence, President Carter calling it the "moral equivalent of war." Energy dependence has led to costly military adventures abroad and economic troubles at home, oil imports being a major factor in our ballooning trade deficits. We now find ourselves borrowing money from our competitors to buy oil we could produce ourselves, often buying it from those who wish us harm. By lifting the ban on drilling in its waters, Florida could help America regain control of its future and mitigate the inevitable supply disruptions.

Oil and gas production may also help Florida regain control of its own future. Florida can no longer count on population growth as its major economic engine, its population having shrunk by at least 58,000 people - the first decline since 1946. Florida's tax revenues have plummeted, leaving vital programs like education kept alive by temporary federal stimulus money. Florida's unemployment rate is 10.6 percent; its economy lost 400,000 jobs in the last year. Demographers say the population growth that has sustained Florida's economy will not return even after the recession has ended.

If Florida allows drilling in its waters, respected Florida Economist Hank Fishkind projects Florida could earn royalties of at least $2.3 billion per year, creating 20,000 energy sector jobs at an average salary of $76,500 per year and generating $7 billion per year in direct economic activity. If Florida waters are as productive as some believe and if the price of oil climbs, the royalties and taxes alone could be $12 billion a year and the industry could generate $41 billion in economic activity, creating over 230,000 jobs.

Lifting the ban on offshore drilling will not change the views off Florida's coast. Drilling rigs should be permitted only temporarily and even then no closer than three nautical miles from shore - far enough away to be visually unobtrusive. Permanent, low profile platforms should be permitted only where necessary and then no closer than six miles - far enough away to be invisible. With a territorial sea of 6.7 million acres extending three nautical miles in the Atlantic and nine nautical miles in the Gulf, most drilling activities should occur out of sight of developed beaches.

Modern offshore oil production carries only minimal environmental risk. At least 95 percent of the oil in Gulf of Mexico waters comes from natural seeps, where oil naturally bubbles from the ocean floor. Of the remaining 5 percent most comes from city runoff, boats, or other sources, leaving less than 1 percent coming from oil production.

As the New York Times reported in 1992, the nation's real risk of a spill comes not from offshore production but from tanker spills, such as the Exxon Valdez. Oil tankers containing imported oil surround Florida all the time heading through the narrow Florida Straits en route to Gulf refineries. Rather than increasing the risk to the environment, domestic production may decrease the more significant risk of a major tanker accident.

Oil drilling is coming to Florida with or without our participation. The Russians are contracting to drill in Cuban waters northwest of the Florida Keys, neither country being known for tough environmental standards, the federal government is considering opening up more of the Eastern Gulf, and the Bahamians are exploring within a short boat ride of Miami. If we participate, we will have more of voice in setting the tough environmental standards we want to apply in our surrounding waters and have a new industry that will provide thousands of good-paying jobs and billions in revenue to the state.
By Eric Draper
Deputy director for Audubon of Florida, a state conservation organization

Western films sometimes feature characters rolling into town to sell brown liquid with restorative powers. Florida is being treated to a similar experience by Texas oil salesmen who claim that oil and gas drilling near our beaches will cure what ails our state's economy. In the movies, the people get conned and then run the snake oil salesmen out of town. Florida's citizens are likely to do the same to the shadowy group of Texas con men who want to drill oil near our beautiful beaches.

Florida's decades-old ban on leasing coastal areas to oil companies serves a good purpose. According to a recent study published by the National Ocean Economics Program, our state's coastal economy produces $560 billion in annual goods and services. Those beach hotels, condos and residences support nearly a million jobs statewide and are a major part of our tax base.

One spill, even a small spill, could trash a stretch of coastline for years and leave local tourist development programs struggling to fill empty hotel rooms and restaurant tables. An underwater web of untended pipelines and leak-prone valves could leave Florida vulnerable to human error and damage from hurricanes. Fish and wildlife would recover but long after the oily carcasses of birds and sport fish were cleaned from the beach.

The Texas oil salesmen say that drilling is now safe and that there is no risk to Florida's beaches. Like the gullible townspeople in the movie, we are supposed to believe that drilling is safe just because its proponents say so. That is pure snake oil.

Trading our jobs-rich coastal economy for oil drilling is like trading the Mayo Clinic for a coal mine. One business grows, provides services and constantly adds value in people and local investment. The other depletes a natural resource for the benefit of distant investors and leaves a mess.

The oilmen hired an economist to make us think that there is easy money to be made in the oil business. The economist for hire throws around loose claims about tax revenue and jobs. Like any snake oil salesman's declaration, the numbers don't stand up to scrutiny. The claims of reserves of oil and gas off the Gulf coast and its income potential are inventions of the oilmen's own sales campaign. Not one shred of scientific evidence has been presented. Trust us they say, believe our claim that the oil and gas is there and money will follow. That's snake oil.

Now, we all want to be independent of foreign oil. That is why Florida has invested in renewable energy. With our abundant sun and fertile soils our state could produce much of its own fuel and electricity for tomorrow's electric cars and trucks.

That is why the late Sen. Jim King's major goal was a clean energy bill to free us from oil and allow Florida to become the energy producer of tomorrow. Lobbyists for the Texas oilmen persuaded House leaders to kill Sen. King's bill. Why? There is much more energy available to Floridians from the sun and from our farms and forests than from the oil that might be under our beaches.

Yet the Texas oilmen claim that oil in Florida's waters will reduce pump prices and replace foreign supplies. Don't believe that snake oil for a minute. Oil prices are dictated by world markets.

The thing you have to admire about snake oil salesmen is that they are good at what they do - their dubious claims cannot be tested, but appeal to people in need. Bernie Madoff did the same thing. So when the oilmen say safe, secure, easy money, I say, get out of town.


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