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Where does Florida stand as BP faces record oil spill penalty and U.S. output challenges Saudis?

Fouled beaches like this one in Pensacola in June 2010 after the giant BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may grow more common as the Gulf becomes an increasing target for oil exploration and drilling. Photo: Edmund Fountain, Tampa Bay Times.

Wake up and good morning. So two very different but very connected events are taking place this week. First comes a mind-bending report by the International Energy Agency claiming the United States will surge ahead of Saudi Arabia in oil output by 2020. Read more here from the Wall Street Journal.

The other big story this week is news that BP -- known best in Florida for its horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that fouled gulf state and Florida Panhandle beaches and heavily damaged the state tourism industry -- is expected to pay a record criminal penalty and plead guilty to criminal misconduct in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Read more here from Reuters. A deal may be unveiled as early as today.

Talk about energy yin and yang. Not to mention a total scrambling of energy global politics in the making.

The IEA report credits the increased technical ability to extract oil from shale for the coming gains in U.S. oil output. But it also says the Gulf of Mexico will grow in importance as the high price of oil keeps pushing energy exploration companies to expand their search there for oil and gas.

So where does that leave Florida? In a quandary. State leaders are waffling at best on their stand against new drilling near Florida's coastlines. And Florida's institutional memory of disasters like hurricanes and oil spills is famous for fading fast. The 2010 BP oil spill already has been covered in a fog of BP-financed, cheery tourism promotional advertising in recent years.

If the demand for energy seems intense now, just wait -- especially if unrest in the Middle East continues to grow and makes U.S. dependence on oil from Saudi Arabia or Iraq politically overpriced. Long term, Florida's best defense against future gulf oil spills probably lies less in its ability to keep gulf drilling far from the coast and more in its advanced preparedness to divert spills from coastlines and effectively clean up any spills that reach Florida land. That's not a great scenario but it is a realistic one.

Are we prepared?

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, Tampa Bay Times