State should beware of drilling promises
November 14, 2009
The secretive group of oil interests intent on opening Florida's waters to drilling offers an alluring message: Drilling will produce jobs and money in a revenue-pinched state and poses no environmental threat.
The group's aggressive marketing campaign is having an impact. Polls show that a majority of Floridians now favor drilling.
But Floridians might hold different views if they look closer at the industry's propaganda.
The promise of jobs and revenue has been vastly inflated, and drilling's risks have been minimized.
Florida Energy Associates, an independent group of oil producers that won't identify its members, claims as much as 3 billion barrels of oil lies beneath Florida waters - from 3 to 10 miles offshore - and the state could generate $2.25 billion a year from drilling royalties.
The estimate comes from economist Hank Fishkind, a consultant for the group.
But as Frank Alcock, director of the Marine Policy Institute at Mote Marine Laboratory, points out, Fishkind's 3 billion-barrel figure is based on a U.S. Geological Survey report, and that estimate was not solely for Florida's waters but included much of the Gulf and land deposits under most of the South, stretching as far as Oklahoma and Texas.
Moreover, it should be remembered that most of the exploratory wells that were drilled in Florida waters before coastal protections were enacted came up dry. There is no guarantee drilling will produce any revenue.
In any event, it's clear the claim that Florida would realize $2.25 billion a year in royalties is fiction.
It is based on the assumption Florida waters would produce 150 million barrels of oil a year. But as the Daytona Beach News-Journal found, in 1995, the peak year for oil production for Alaska, Texas, Louisiana and California, those four states combined produced 140 million barrels of oil.
Another exaggeration is the claim that drilling poses no risk.
The industry has greatly improved its safety record. Given the extent of the industry's operations, spills are rare but hardly uncommon.
Since 1993, more than 7 million gallons have been spilled into the Gulf of Mexico or its connected waterways.
In August, a devastating leak on an oil platform off Australia began spewing 300 to 400 barrels of oil a day into the Timor Sea. The spill lasted more than 10 weeks and covered an area of nearly 4,000 square miles.
The accident occurred on a jack-up rig similar to what would be used in Florida and is being promoted as harmless.
According to Florida Energy Associates' pitch, once drilling is completed, the jack-up rig is removed and a subsurface production structure is used to pump the oil. Oil officials blame the Australia disaster on human error and say U.S. safeguards would prevent a similar mishap here.
Perhaps. But not even NASA, with its elite team of scientists, is mistake-free. Do Floridians actually believe oil operations would be flawless? And the drilling would be only a few miles offshore. There would be no margin for error. Oil would quickly wash up on our sugar-sand beaches, a key feature of the state's $65-billion-a-year tourism industry.
The threat is imminent. Drilling champion Rep. Dean Cannon, the Winter Park Republican who is scheduled to become House speaker next year, appears determined to ram through a bill next session. To his credit, Senate President Jeff Atwater wants to review the facts.
State lawmakers and the people of Florida should see it is an affront to conservative government and fiscal prudence to risk priceless resources and the state's economy for the dubious promises of a secret group of oil interests.
Back to Tampa Tribune Page. . .
Back to Home Page. . .