Contact: Agustina Guerrero (813)871-2817
Floridians Should Not Be Panicked Into Sacrificing Their Coast
Tampa Tribune Editorial
Tampa, Jul 11 -
Big oil interests are using big lies to promote oil drilling off Florida's coast. Trying to capitalize on the public's dismay over high gas prices, the drill-everywhere crowd is misleading citizens about the likely consequences.
Drilling, they say, represents no threat. Keep the rigs out of sight - 12 miles or so - and you will never know they are there. The drills are so safe they even endured Hurricanes Katrina and Rita without a drop of oil reaching shore.
That's simply not true.
While drilling methods have improved, allowing the rigs near the coast would present a grave threat to Florida's sandy shores, coral reefs, coastal waters as well as the state's appeal to tourists and residents alike.
Offshore oil drilling involves massive amounts of mud and toxic metals that can pollute the air and water. Support and transport operations can pose even greater threat of spills and mishaps.
A few years ago the Mobile Register reviewed a number of studies that documented extensive mercury pollution around oil and gas rigs, some as high as levels at Superfund sites. The water around a platform off Texas had mercury levels 12 times higher than were deemed safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Tests of popular game fish around the rigs found most to have unsafe mercury levels.
And the claim that offshore oil drilling withstood Katrina and Rita is a fable.
The hurricanes destroyed 113 rigs and, according to an analysis by the Houston Chronicle, caused at least 595 spills that spread across four states, tainting inshore and offshore waters. The Chronicle's investigation showed the pollution caused by the hurricanes ranked "among the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history."
In addition, more than 7 million gallons of oil were spilled from storage depots and other facilities in southeast Louisiana.
Should a major spill occur off semitropical Florida, the harm would be enduring. Studies after a Panama spill found it would take 50 years for mangroves to recover and 150 years for coral reefs. And oceanographers say a spill in the Gulf's Loop current, which flows into the Gulf Stream, would be polluting the Florida Keys' reefs or east coast beaches in a week or so.
While Florida's beaches are renowned for clear water and sandy white beaches, Texas beaches are better known for tar balls, cloudy water and the smell of petroleum, the result of offshore rigs.
Stephen Leatherman, the Florida International University professor known as Dr. Beach, studies and ranks beaches throughout the nation. Texas beaches, he told the St. Petersburg Times, "tend to be the trash can of the gulf," as everything from oil drums to tar balls washes ashore.
Does anybody think this will be good for the state's economy or quality of life?
Drilling off the state would do little to lower gas costs, at best a few cents per gallon, and would not even be available for seven years or more. It makes no sense to risk Florida's coast for such a puny payoff.
Moreover, contrary to the oil interests' claims, there is no shortage of domestic areas to drill. About 80 percent of the nation's offshore gas and oil reserves already can be leased for drilling. Of the 44 million acres of domestic reserves available to the industry, more than 30 million have not been tapped. President George W. Bush's administration has opened more than 26 million acres of land to the industry in recent years. Yet this has done nothing to slow the increase of gas prices, which have far more to do with a weak dollar and commodity speculation than the lack of domestic supply.
The congressional agreement reached last year on drilling off Florida is sensible. It keeps drilling at least 125 miles away from Florida, with a 235-mile buffer off the state's West Coast because military flight training is conducted there. The measure opened up more than 8 million acres offshore to the industry, which has not been utilized.
So why the push for a fire sale of leases now? The push has nothing to do with obtaining energy independence or lowering prices. It is about giving oil companies, many foreign owned, a valuable entitlement that, once given, can never be taken away.
There may come a time, as the nation develops a comprehensive energy plan that incorporates conservation, alternative fuels, nuclear power and domestic production, when it is necessary to consider some additional drilling off Florida. But that should come only after rigorous attention has been given to the risks involved and what can be done to minimize them. Floridians should not be fooled by this transparent scheme to panic them into sacrificing the state's natural treasures.