Drilling? Maybe. Florida? No way.

Gasoline that costs $4 a gallon is the wrong reason for Florida to change its mind about offshore oil drilling.

Offshore oil drilling is a long-term proposition. It is not going to do much about our short-term pain of $4-a-gallon gasoline — it will not keep it from $5, or $6.

Neither is this election-year stuff about U.S. "energy independence" any reason for Florida to change its mind.

Offshore oil drilling is not going to make us "energy independent." Not even the oil industry claims such a thing. Only politicians do.

And yet, Florida suddenly seems on the verge of abandoning a firm bipartisan consensus against offshore drilling that has governed this state for decades.

John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, says we ought to do it — citing, yes, gas prices and "energy independence." The current president says so, too.

So now Florida's governor, Charlie Crist, has weakened his own long-term opposition, presto, change-o! He has set off a chain reaction of lesser copycats, too. Yet these still are the wrong reasons.

They are pandering reasons. They are sloganeering reasons. They are short-term, political exploitation.

Is there a case for expanding offshore drilling? You bet.

The U.S. uses something like 20-million barrels of oil a day and imports most of it.

If we import less, the trade deficit gets better. There are more jobs, more investment. States get royalty checks, too.

But we ought to use that breathing room to get better. We have to have a comprehensive strategy to move us away from what we do now.

If we just foolishly burn up what we've got, in the name of cheap energy, we end up in the same boat, except worse.

Independence? Phooey. The estimated U.S. offshore reserves are 86-billion barrels. Assuming we could actually get to it, it would be enough to run the place "independently" for, say, 11 years.

And even if the U.S. policy changed today, it would take years to produce new oil.

So this is neither a quick fix for today's gas prices, nor a path to "independence."

This ain't just whiny me saying this. The oil industry itself and the American Petroleum Institute are careful not to make such claims. The institute says there are many good reasons to drill and to expand domestic production, but it also should be part of a bigger strategy.

"We're going to need more energy of all types," John Felmy, the institute's chief economist, told me. "We can't just stand still. We have to be going forward with a balanced energy policy. Supply is one component of that policy."

Agreed. Yet this still brings us back to Florida and its unique situation.

What has changed, really, in this debate? Only the short-term political clamor.

The tradeoffs that Florida faces today are the same as always — the same that led every previous leader, Republican and Democrat, to say Florida can't afford the risk.

Drilling advocates from some other states sometimes accuse Florida of thinking that it is special.

You know what? It is. Yessir.

It is too special to succumb to false promises of cheaper gas and "energy independence." Florida is too special to sell out its coast for a royalty check.

So, let's go ahead with it. Let's pander, let's make fake promises. And let's drill, for the benefits that we do get.

Just not here.

Drilling? Maybe. Florida? No way. 06/18/08 [Last modified: Sunday, June 22, 2008 11:02pm]

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