Jan 13, 2010

Florida Offshore Drilling may be Shelved

The following Orlando Sentinel editorial(Capping Offshore Drilling 1-12-10) offers great news for our state of Florida since the potential environmental consequences of close-to-Florida oil and gas drilling cannot be quantified. The states of Texas and Louisiana are so tied into the gulf drilling game that it is a part of their economic makeup. But Florida, despite being in a current horrible economic situation, has never received large income from the oil and gas industry. Tourism dollars driven by the beautiful Florida coastline dwarf what oil and gas could offer.

Back when the Republicans were running Washington in the early 21st century and the short term profiting of oil and gas interests(largely directed from Texas)were pushing hard to potentially damage the marvelous Florida coastline to gather a rather small amount of oil and gas, the wishy-washy Florida Governor Crist of course got on-board with the oil and gas wave in an attempt to do something-maybe it was to become Vice President.

But as we see the political personnel have changed and Florida is better for it--for now at least.

It's funny, we have some friends in the north Texas area and around Baton Rouge and they never consider going to the Texas beaches. They always drive up to 12 hrs to reach the Florida panhandle beaches. Why is that????

Offshore drilling may not be coming to Florida's Gulf Coast, thanks, it appears, to Senate President Jeff Atwater.

We'd feared otherwise just three months ago, when it seemed the fix was in. Mr. Atwater had just appointed Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla to chair the Senate's energy committee, which is supposed to vet legislation by Rep. Dean Cannon and Sen. Mike Haridopolos that would allow rigs just five miles from Florida's beaches.

The rub? Mr. Diaz de la Portilla's wife lobbies for the oil and gas industry. Florida seemed primed for the biggest Big Oil con since sax player Tony Curtis told Marilyn Monroe his family owned Shell Oil in Some Like it Hot.

Fast forward. Mr. Diaz de la Portilla and his wife, Claudia, have filed for divorce. Mr. Atwater recently said oil drilling's not on his priority list for 2010. And several industry representatives are fleeing Tallahassee. Florida Energy Associates, the leading group lobbying for lifting the decades-long drilling ban, announced it will be shedding as many as two-thirds of its 30-person capital-based operation.

"It's very hard to keep an army in the field without a war to fight," its representative said. "We're in something of a quiet period right now."

Sen. Lee Constantine chairs an environment committee that also stands to review the drilling bill. "We have more questions than answers," he says.

When Mr. Atwater appointed Mr. Diaz de la Portilla chair of the energy committee, he insisted he was in no hurry to follow the lead of the House, which passed an early version of Mr. Cannon's drill bill, believing it can net the state billions in revenues annually.

Even though Texas collects just $45 million a year. And even though the rigs, while safer than they used to be, could well threaten Florida's waters, landscape, wildlife and $50-billion-plus tourism industry. A blowout at a state-of-the-art rig 150miles off Australia's coast in August released oil covering an area bigger than New Jersey.

Perhaps we shouldn't have doubted Mr. Atwater. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who with others worked with Mr. Atwater to get state senators to pass legislation bringing SunRail to Florida, says he's confident Mr. Atwater won't let his chamber pass the drilling bill. And if Mr. Atwater demonstrated anything leading up to the special legislative session that expanded passenger rail, it's that he can convince wavering senators to come together.

The benefits of his doing that with Mr. Cannon's and Mr. Haridopolos' legislation stand to be immense. If the House and Senate were to pass a bill to lift the state's offshore ban this year, Gov. Charlie Crist would sign it.

But here's what's likely to happen if Mr. Atwater blocks the rigs from Florida' shores in 2010. Mr. Haridopolos, who's primed to succeed Mr. Atwater as Senate president, would work to compel the chamber to get them pumping, and as its new leader, could well succeed. Mr. Cannon, designated to run the House in 2011, would pass the bill there, lifting the drilling ban.

But a drilling bill then would land on the desk of Gov. Alex Sink, Gov. Bill McCollum or Gov. Paula Dockery. And all have hammered the idea, calling it unconscionable, unnecessary or risky. Any one of them, unlike Gov. Crist, who opposed offshore drilling before he supported it, could be expected to veto it.

So much hinges on Mr. Atwater, unlike Florida's governor, standing his ground.

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