A think tank’s report on the implications of future oil and gas exploration and drilling off Florida’s Gulf coast offers evidence of limited rewards and potential risks should the current drilling ban in state waters be lifted.
Florida Senate President Jeff Atwater called on the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida – created by the Legislature in 2005 to study long term statewide planning solutions – to make an unbiased, comprehensive review of the issues after the Legislature considered a proposal last year to allow the governor and Cabinet to approve oil drilling leases in state waters, within 10 miles of shore.
The commission’s staff, the Collins Center for Public Policy, polled oil industry representatives, university experts, independent scientists, state and federal agencies, environmental groups and other sources to produce a report likely to be relied on extensively if similar legislation is proposed this spring, as expected.
Some highlights from the report follow.
Oil spills: “Oil spills can cause impacts from only a few days to multiple years or even decades. Florida’s coastline is especially sensitive to spills because of its mangrove forests, seagrass beds and coral reefs… Cleanup costs and economic losses for the most severe spills can total in the billions of dollars.”
“Natural seeps account for roughly 45 percent of the total annual oil load to the world’s oceans,” followed by man-made pollution from urban runoff, polluted rivers and boats, with oil spills farther down the list, according to the report.
Tourism: “Clearly, an accidental spill can have a significant impact on local tourism. Regional impacts on tourism are certainly possible if an accident is severe. A catastrophic accident would have statewide impact if it changed perceptions of Florida on a large enough scale.”
Aesthetics: “Basic trigonometry calculations suggest that on a clear day many offshore oil rigs could be detected by the naked eye in Florida waters. That would certainly be true if they were allowed within five miles… Generally speaking, for a 6-foot-tall person the visible horizon is three miles away. For that same person, a 100-foot structure is visible about 10 miles away.”
Real estate: “Florida’s pristine beaches and captivating vistas are a fundamental part of its identity and allure. If the state’s beach quality, vistas and overall experience are significantly degraded by oil and gas activities the result could include an impact on real estate value... Anecdotal information from the real estate industry suggests that prospective clients could also be deterred by the perception of risk posed by oil and gas development near the coastline.”
Sand resources: “There is a limited amount of beach-quality sand available in Florida’s inshore and near-shore waters, and areas containing valuable sand overlap with areas having the potential for oil and gas… As of yet, Florida does not appear to have any plans or procedures for resolving conflicts that could arise among oil and gas exploration and development interests and beach restoration interests. However, recent agreements between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, local governments in Manatee County and a company proposing to build a 28-mile submerged natural gas pipeline to Port Manatee may have set a precedent.”
Energy independence: “Estimated oil reserves in Florida’s coastal waters are less than 100 million barrels. Production derived from these reserves would boost U.S. supplies by a small fraction of 1 percent. To put that in context, the total estimated amount of oil reserves in Florida would satisfy the U.S. demand for oil (approximately 20 million barrels a day) for less than a week,” with "no discernible effect on petroleum prices at the retail level," and “no discernible impact on our foreign oil dependency.”
Jobs/revenue: Opening the Gulf to oil activities could create between 1,000 and 5,000 jobs in Florida and produce state leasing revenues of $20 million to $180 million a year, depending on which figures are used, according to the report.
Pollution: “Offshore oil and gas activities can result in heavy metals and debris disturbing several acres around the wells. Discharged wastes can blanket the seabed around a borehole, and the turbidity caused during drilling can adversely affect sea life adjacent to the activity.” Currents and shifting sands after drilling ceases can mitigate the damage, the report notes.
Marine life: “Seismic guns and other acoustic disturbances associated with oil and gas exploration and development can have significant impacts on marine life.”
Read and comment on the report at http://centurycommission.org.