State and local lawmakers gathered Friday, August 28th at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort on Clearwater Beach to discuss oil and gas rig drilling off the coast of Florida. Organized by the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Offshore Drilling Symposium consisted of seven panelists representing both sides of the issue. Radio personality Jack Harris, host of AM Tampa Bay on WFLA, moderated the event.
“This should be a very enlightening event,” Harris said. “Offshore drilling is a very contentious subject in these parts. Many people have their preconceived ideas already. What this symposium is designed to do is enlighten further.”
Originally published in Barrier Islands Gazette and The Examiner -- Sept 25th 2009 (Prior to the Horizon/BP disaster in the Gulf).
Speaking on behalf of Senator Bill Nelson, Shahra Anderson had this to say, “Regardless of what we feel at this moment, I would like to make one thing clear: I will kill in a filibuster anything that will affect the economy, the environment and the unmatched military training that operates here in Florida.”
Rundown of the arguments
Founding partner of Southern Strategy Group David Rancourt spoke first. In a speech compiled of Thomas Paine quotes, Rancourt’s message advocated oilrig drilling off Florida shores.
“We need to wean ourselves off foreign oil,” Rancourt said. “I think ‘Drill Baby Drill’ is wrong and I think ‘Not Here, Not Now, Not Ever’ is just as wrong.”
Executive Director of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater D.T. Minich spoke second. Minich’s message was in clear opposition to offshore drilling, citing the recent oil spill off the coast of Australia.
“What they are proposing off our coast is what’s called as a jack-up rig, which is a temporary rig that they can move around,” Minich said. “As we speak, there is an oil spill in the Western Australia region on one of these jack-rigs.”
According to the Herald Sun, gas has been leaking from PTTEP Australasia's West Atlas oilrig into the Timor Sea since August 21st.
President of Fishkind & Associates, Inc., Dr. Hank Fishkind, Ph.D. was the third panelist to speak. Fishkind discussed the positive economic impact that offshore oil drilling would have on Florida. According to Fishkind, it would create 20,000 direct jobs, 40,000 indirect jobs and $3 billion in revenue for the state.
“I just want you to consider the facts,” Fishkind said. “There are about 20,000 producing rigs in the offshore gulf area. The average number of spills per unit is 5. That means that the probability of a spill is .08%. Not zero, but .08% - less than one percent.”
Deputy Director of Audubon of Florida Eric Draper spoke fourth. Draper’s message was a direct rebuttal to Rancourt’s and Fishkind’s.
“Everything is based on assumptions,” Draper said. “Renewable energy would create a lot more jobs than what’s in Fishkind’s study.”
Draper also alluded to the possibility that the Chinese may indirectly own one or more of the oil companies currently looking to lease in the gulf.
Rep. Seth McKeel, a Republican representing District 63 in the Florida House of Representatives, spoke fifth. McKeel, proclaiming to be a 5th generation Floridian and avid boater, argued that offshore drilling in Florida will be safe due to new technology and Florida offshore geography, which he says is very different than in some of the other areas where there are concerns. McKeel also argued that the revenue that will be generated from offshore drilling would be used to enhance tourism and education.
“What we are proposing is to bring a new industry to our state,” McKeel said.
Regional Representative of the Sierra Club’s Florida headquarters in St. Petersburg Phil Compton spoke sixth. Compton’s argument focused on routine chemical discharges, pollution that is regularly emitted while drilling for oil. According to the EPA, routine chemical discharges lead to higher mercury levels in the fish population, among other things.
“What if there is never a spill?” Compton asked. “What if we are lucky?
Compton cited studies where Grouper fished from offshore drilling waters had tested three-times the mercury levels.
Managing Director & Executive Officer of the Clearwater Gas System Chuck Warrington was the seventh and final speaker. Warrington, the director and past president of the Florida Natural Gas Association and the American Public Gas Association, argued that natural gas is a green, environmentally friendly energy.
“It has less than half the carbon of any of the other fuels, it’s three times as energy sufficient coming from the source to the site and it’s lighter than air and therefore inherently safe,” Warrington said. “We believe that natural gas can be produced from the eastern Gulf of Mexico in a safe, clean and environmentally sensitive manor”.
There was a brief question and answer session following the presentations.