Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida oil: not so much, not so bad?

Last year, when some in our Legislature wanted to throw open Florida's waters to oil drilling right away, the president of our state Senate slowed it down.

Instead, Jeff Atwater asked for a study. The report he asked for is complete and will be presented Monday in Orlando and Tallahassee.

The report was prepared by the Collins Center for Public Policy, a good-guy outfit that studies state issues. That center produced the study for another group called the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida, chaired by former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker.

If Florida does open its waters, the report notes, the almost certain political consequence will be that Congress opens the eastern Gulf of Mexico as well.

"It would be hard to maintain congressional support for a ban on oil and gas activity from 10 to 125 miles from the Florida coastline," the report says, "when the state is allowing it inside of 10 miles."

The report does not say flat-out whether Florida should allow drilling. But it contains information that both sides of the debate can use:

• Estimated reserves in Florida waters and the eastern Gulf of Mexico are only a fraction of those in the central and western gulf.

• These reserves would boost U.S. production by 1 to 2 percent, with "no discernible effect on petroleum prices at the retail level" and little contribution toward the nation's "energy independence." Florida-only reserves account for less than one week's worth of U.S. consumption. (Caveat: Improved technology and additional studies could change these estimates.)

• Best-case estimates are that gulf oil production would generate an average of $90 million to $180 million a year to the state and create 2,000 to 5,000 jobs. There would be additional revenue from state-only waters, but perhaps not as much as in other gulf states, which range from $50 million to $200 million annually.

The report is somewhat reassuring about environmental risks. In fact, it noted that 60 percent of the oil released into North American waters comes from natural seepage.

The next biggest source is you and me — runoff into the sea from urban areas, the pollution we dump into our rivers and the oil we churn into the water from our boats. Spills from drilling account for less than 1 percent of the total, the report says.

It says the darker sands and tar balls of Texas beaches come from geological differences and natural seepage.

The report also says there is no evidence drilling leaves "substantial, lasting impacts" on the sea floor, nor that air pollution is significant. Drilling noise bothers whales, but the feds require platforms to warn away marine mammals sonically first.

Without a doubt, a major spill would be devastating. Farther offshore in the gulf, because of the nature of the currents, the Keys and even the state's east coast would be the likely victims.

Closer to shore, we are at the mercy of the prevailing winds.

However, the report points out that major spills are extremely rare and even more rare thanks to changes in federal law made in 1990 after the famous Exxon Valdez spill. Much-publicized spills in other parts of the world such as one in East Timor in 2009 would not have occurred here because of tougher safety rules, it says.

So opening Florida and the gulf to drilling would neither help our "energy independence," nor drive down prices, nor be a cure-all for state revenue and job creation. On the other hand, there is little evidence of environmental damage or a daily degradation of Florida's beaches from routine operations, although the remote risk of a catastrophic spill is still scary.

My own bias is that the limited benefits are not worth even a minimal risk. You might read the same report and conclude the opposite. In any case, this is the fairest thing I have read about it.

Not only can you read the report for yourself, but also add your comments to it, at

Florida oil: not so much, not so bad? 03/13/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 13, 2010 9:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Video: Loggerhead sea turtle found in Islamorada resident's pool


    An adult female loggerhead sea turtle, discovered in an oceanside residential pool in Islamorada on Monday, has been rescued and released off the Florida Keys.

    An adult female loggerhead sea turtle, discovered in an oceanside residential pool in Islamorada on June 22, 2017, has been rescued and released off the Florida Keys. [Photo from video]

  2. What Wilson Ramos will mean to the Rays lineup, pitching

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Chris Archer was stumping for all-star votes for Corey Dickerson during a live interview Wednesday morning on the MLB Network when he lifted the right earpiece on his headset and said, "I hear a buffalo coming."

    Tampa Bay Rays catcher Wilson Ramos (40) waves to the crowd after being presented with the Silver Slugger Award before the start of the game between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.
  3. Deon Cain, Duke Dawson, Derrick Nnadi among SI's top 100 players


    Sports Illustrated's countdown of the top 100 players in college football continues with three more local players.

  4. She doesn't care if you accept her, as long as you respect her

    Human Interest

    Mary Jane Taylor finds strength walking quietly among the dead.

    Mary Jane Taylor,18, visits Oaklawn Cemetery in downtown Tampa when she is feeling low. "When I hit my low points in life I go the the graveyard," she says. "people are afraid of the graveyard. I love the graveyard." The transgender teen recently graduated from Jefferson High School. She is  enrolled in summer classes at Santa Fe College in Gainesville studying international business. She plans to transfer to the University of Florida, attend law school and become a civil rights lawyer. (JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |   Times)
  5. Few new details in state investigation of Tarpon Springs officer-involved shooting of Nick Provenza

    Public Safety

    TARPON SPRINGS — An investigative report, released this week by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, into the officer-involved shooting that killed 25-year-old Nick Provenza included largely the same narrative prosecutors released this month that ruled the shooting a "justifiable homicide."

    Stopping while riding by on his bike Michael Prater, 15, hangs his head after looking at the memorial at Safford and Tarpon avenues for Nick Provenza, a 25-year-old who was shot and killed there during a car show Saturday by a Tarpon Springs police officer. Investigators said Provenza pulled a knife on the cop who shot him. Friends find it hard to believe a man they described as a peaceful vegan and musician would be capable of such an act. Prater didn't know the victim but was at the car show.