Former U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm of Texas wants to educate people in the bay area about the benefits of drilling for oil and gas in their own back yard.
He paraphrases the late social commentator Will Rogers: "It ain't people's ignorance that bothers me so much. It's them knowing so much that ain't so is the problem."
Stenholm, 70, is speaking today in Tampa to the World Affairs Council of Tampa Bay about offshore drilling, America's dependence on foreign oil and climate change policy.
The lifelong Democrat, who says he represents the oil and gas industry, has been traveling the country telling people how using American oil reserves is what's best for the country.
Why do you feel that it is essential to open up access to America's oil and natural gas reserves?
Well, you know, I would think particularly Floridians would see the answer to that question. When you look at what's happening now to tourism, when we saw $4.50 gasoline last year, the disruption to our economy and all of the ramifications of that, that is why last year the Congress passed the law opening up onshore and offshore drilling opportunities again to allow us to develop our own natural resources. So that's why it's so critical now to the very economic future of our country.
Is there really enough readily accessible oil in the United States to make a difference?
Nobody knows. Nobody can answer that question. All we're saying is, "Doesn't it make sense to test and to see what we got rather than to assume it's not there?" … The question that we pose to the people of Florida: Wouldn't you like to know if you have a large gas field somewhere off your shores that can help provide cleaner burning fuel and that can help make sure we are not as dependent upon other sources for energy?
Recently on South Padre Island in Texas, oil blobs washed up on the shore. Why should Florida take the risk with its beaches?
What happened to Padre Island, I don't want it happening anywhere. And if you look at the track record of the oil and gas industry, there has been minimal spillage in the last 20 years. Minimal. And it's getting better every day because oil companies are very sensitive to that, the liability that goes along with that and the fact that the oil companies are as environmentally sensitive as anyone. You have to realize — and we don't know where this oil came from — we have natural seepage in the ocean. It occurs naturally, and you can't stop it naturally. We're trying. If we know a natural seepage, I guarantee you folks in the oil industry are No. 1, going to try to retrieve it and No. 2, stop it from naturally seeping and being wasted.
What are the costs of pending climate change legislation?
No. 1, if you look at (the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which has been passed by the House but has yet to be approved by the Senate), oil and gas is charged with 44 percent of the carbon emissions into the environment. Oil and gas got 2 percent of the credits. Okay, well, that means the oil and gas industry is going to have to pass on those costs — to whom? Those who consume gasoline. In the case of our farmers, the diesel cost of fertilizing. In the case of our food industry, those who utilize trucking in order to get the food products from where they are grown to the grocery store. So the legislation for some apparent reason decided that producing oil and gas in the United States is not in our best interests, but at the same time we are saying that we have to reduce our reliance on foreign oil and gas. I don't understand that logic. In fact, there is no logic to it.
Nicole Norfleet can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8785.