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Oil supply off Florida is called minuscule

TALLAHASSEE — Estimated reserves in Florida waters would provide the United States with less than a week's worth of oil and have no discernible effect on prices at the pump or U.S. reliance on foreign oil, says a report released Friday as part of a state Senate review of whether a ban on offshore drilling should be lifted.

The report is the latest indication that the push to open Florida waters as near as 3 miles from the state's beaches may be waning, at least for this year.

Another is that all 12 lobbyists for Florida Energy Associates, a group pushing for lifting the ban, have withdrawn, according to the Legislature's lobbyist registry.

Also, no bill has yet been filed on drilling in Florida waters with the annual legislative session set to start Tuesday, but resolutions have been introduced in the House and Senate that would urge Congress to lift moratoriums on drilling in federal waters farther from shore.

Senate Energy, Environment and Land Use Committee Chairman Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, declined comment on the lobbyists leaving Florida Energy Associates and said legislation still could be passed by amending it onto another bill.

"Nothing is dead for this year," Constantine said. "My job is to find the questions and answer those questions."

Constantine has a pro-environment record but said he's trying to stay neutral.

The report was prepared by the Collins Center for Public Policy, a Florida think tank, in conjunction with the state's Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida. Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, has asked the commission to submit information for the chamber's examination of the issue.

The 40-page report is full of data gathered from government and private sources but makes no recommendations.

Government assessments suggest oil and gas reserves in state waters east of Apalachicola in the Panhandle are modest, the report says. The area west of Apalachicola has a separate geologic structure "that may contain natural gas fields at significant depths in the subsurface."

Most of the total reserves east of Apalachicola also are gas. The oil estimated in state waters would boost U.S. supplies by less than 100 million barrels, or 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," the report says.

Constantine said he's heard that before but it's only one side of the debate.

"That's speculation," Constantine said. "It's pretty much a guessing game."

Estimated reserves off Florida in federal waters are more substantial at a bit less than 4 billion barrels but pale in comparison to the central and western regions of the Gulf of Mexico, the report says. It adds that drilling in federal waters off Florida would boost total U.S. production by 1 or 2 percent and "have no discernible impact on the state's or country's dependence on foreign oil."

The report also says the chances of accidental spills are low but that Florida's coastline is especially sensitive because of its mangrove forests, sea grass beds and coral reefs.

The closer to shore a spill occurs the greater the hazard. The report says that makes drilling in federal waters less of a threat even than drilling in Cuban waters.

"Studies show the sea currents flowing off Cuba's northwest coast could deposit oil from a significant spill anywhere from the Keys to Palm Beach," the report says.

Oil supply off Florida is called minuscule 02/26/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 26, 2010 11:46pm]

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