Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Legislators back lifting ban on oil drilling off Florida coast

TALLAHASSEE — In a full-barreled appeal to the House Policy Council, the oil and gas industry persuaded lawmakers to vote, 17-6, along party lines Tuesday for a bill that opens state waters to exploration and taps into new revenues for the state's ailing budget.

The council approved an amendment by Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Orlando, that would lift Florida's ban on oil drilling in state waters and replace it with a plan to allow the governor and Florida Cabinet to seek bidders for exploration and drilling in the Gulf of Mexico between 3 and 10 miles offshore.

New revenues would come from a $1 million nonrefundable application fee for every bidder and, according to an industry-hired economist, from as much as $1.6 billion in royalties and taxes if the wells produce oil.

"We're giving the governor and Cabinet that chance to have that dialogue with no obligation whatsoever," Cannon said. "But we are taking away the shackles that currently prohibit Florida from not only pursuing energy independence but economic development and security and environmental protection."

Although the measure has no Senate companion, both the governor and Senate leaders said there may be time to consider it.

Gov. Charlie Crist said he was still reviewing the proposal but was "intrigued'' by the potential to extract oil "in a way that is safe, in a way that is clean and in a way that generates a lot of revenue for the state of Florida."

The Senate's top budget chief, Sen. J.D. Alexander, said he supports the idea of opening the gulf to oil exploration. He suggested that the proposal may remain alive because he believes lawmakers may be forced to go past the planned May 1 end of session, giving them time to consider it.

Cannon said he filed the last-minute measure to begin "a mature, thoughtful conversation'' about pursuing future oil and gas exploration. He emphasized there is no guarantee that oil rigs will be positioned off Florida's coasts and said there is no intent to pursue oil production off Florida's Atlantic coasts or around Key West.

Every Republican on the committee voted for the proposal, and the only Democrat to support it was Fort Lauderdale Rep. Yolly Roberson.

It was harshly criticized by environmentalists who called it hasty and short-sighted and by Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a longtime opponent of drilling off Florida's coasts.

Nelson sent out messages to his Twitter followers saying, "I can't believe some Florida lawmakers might actually be serious about allowing oil drilling within ten miles offshore."

Cannon's lengthy pitch to the committee included a PowerPoint presentation and handouts with charts and photos, funded by a group named Florida Energy Associates, which refuses to identify its members.

Lewis Sessions, a Dallas-based lawyer who said he represents several independent West Texas oil companies that he also refused to name, told the committee that last year Texas earned $7 billion from taxes and fees on oil and gas leases and production.

Session noted that longtime development lawyer Frank Matthews helped draft the Cannon bill.

Mason Dixon pollster Larry Harris said an April poll on behalf of Florida Energy Associates found that if the public can be convinced that oil and gas drilling is environmentally safe, 88 percent support it. Short of that, 59 percent of the public generally supports it, he said.

Orlando economist Hank Fishkind told lawmakers that 15-year-old federal estimates indicate there is about 3 billion gallons of oil off Florida's coast. If 150 million barrels were drilled each year, at a rate of $53 per barrel and 20 percent royalties, the state would earn $31 billion over 20 years, or $1.6 billion a year.

He also predicted that oil and gas production would produce 17,000 to 20,000 jobs.

The environmentalists said they were caught off guard by the last-minute emergence of the proposal and urged the council to reject it.

"Please do not allow people who are being compensated most generously to articulate on behalf of the oil industry talk to you about the environmental sensitivity of oil drilling 3 miles from our coast," said Debbie Harrison of the World Wildlife Fund.

She said the state's coastal tourism and marine industries contribute $587 billion to Florida's economy each year, according to the Florida Oceans Council.

Herald/Times staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com.

Legislators back lifting ban on oil drilling off Florida coast 04/21/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 21, 2009 8:21pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. JFK's last birthday: Gifts, champagne and wandering hands on the presidential yacht

    Nation

    It has been 100 years since John F. Kennedy's birth on May 29, 1917, at his parents' home in Brookline, Mass., just outside Boston. Over the course of his life, Kennedy enjoyed lavish birthday celebrations, the most famous being a Democratic fundraising bash at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962, when a sequined …

    President John F. Kennedy aboard the Sequoia in 1963 opening birthday presents. [Robert Knudsen | John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum]
  2. 1 in 4 Florida adults aren't registered to vote, according to non-partisan group

    Legislature

    TALLAHASSEE — Five million people in Florida who are eligible to vote aren't registered, according to a nationwide non-partisan group that helps improve the accuracy of state voter rolls.

    Voters line up in front of the Coliseum Ballroom in St. Petersburg on Nov. 8. A non-partisan group estimates that more than a quarter of Florida's adult-age population isn't registered to vote. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  3. Rays morning after: A lot that went into a marathon win

    Blogs

    Rays manager Kevin Cash had a simple strategy when Fox Sports Sun's Alex Corddry asked him how the team would move on from Sunday's marathon win and get ready to face the Rangers tonight in Texas:

    Kevin Kiermaier of the Rays celebrates as teammate Michael Martinez slides safely into home plate to score a run against the Minnesota Twins during the 14th inning.
  4. Navy parachutist dies during demonstration over Hudson River

    Military

    JERSEY CITY, N.J. — In the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, a Navy Seal team member fell to his death Sunday after his parachute failed to open during a Fleet Week demonstration over the Hudson River.

    Officials surround a U.S. Navy Seal's parachute that landed in a parking lot after the parachutist fell into the Hudson River when his parachute failed to open during a Fleet Week demonstration over the river in Jersey City, N.J. The Navy said the parachutist was pronounced dead at Jersey City Medical Center. [Joe Shine | Jersey Journal via AP]
  5. As White House defends Jared Kushner, experts question his alleged back-channel move

    National

    WASHINGTON — The Trump administration argued over the weekend that back-channel communications are acceptable in building dialogue with foreign governments, part of an effort to minimize fallout over White House adviser Jared Kushner's reported discussion about creating a secret conduit to the Kremlin at a Russian …

    President-elect Donald Trump embraces son in law Jared Kushner, as his daughter Ivanka Trump stands nearby, after his acceptance speech at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of Nov. 9. [Mark Wilson | Getty Images]