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Date of Issue: September 16, 2009


Offshore oil, gas bubbling to the forefront yet again

Thar’s bubbling crude in that there Gulf! Oil, that is. Black gold. Texas tea ….

Well, maybe.

Florida legislators, business leaders and oil company executives are swarming through the Gulf of Mexico with visions of “black sunshine” in their minds as they hope to siphon offshore oil and natural gas from the under the offshore and nearshore waters.

Whether or not there is actually any oil off the shore of Anna Maria Island is uncertain.

Certain is an eventual huge environmental outcry for what some are saying could mean oil rigs 3 miles, maybe 5 miles off Florida’s coast.

Call it “a day without black crude is like a day without sunshine” for Florida, as one Florida writer described the offshore oil morass.

Legislative

Florida legislators earlier this year nearly approved oil and natural gas drilling within 3 miles of the coast. It was one of those last-minute deals that flew quickly through a Florida House of Representatives committee and then made it to the full membership.

The measure stalled due to concerns that something as controversial and potentially combative was brought up at the literal 11th hour of the session.

Ha. It now could come up during a special session of the Legislature next month.

According to Joe Follick in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Gov. Charlie Crist has thoughts to bring oil into the other “sin” elements scheduled for the special session in October. Call it the special session trilogy of blackjack, slot machines and offshore oil drilling.

Crist has been pushing for a deal with the Seminole Indians to allow expanded gambling in their Native American casinos, a push that could net $150 million a year for state coffers.

The gambling chips are chump change compared to what some say could be $2.3 billion a year in leases and taxes from offshore oil and gas.

Kicker to the offshore resource issue is its leading proponent, a guy named Dean Cannon, a Winter Park Republican who will probably become the speaker of the House of Representatives next year and who also appears to be a power broker for offshore power.

As the Herald-Tribune put it, “Cannon said consideration in October would be wise since the state will be losing federal stimulus money after next year that has largely kept the state's basic services funded. Cannon called it the ‘looming flameout of the stimulus dollars’ and a potential billion-dollar shortfall. ‘If the state could find true new dollars, we've got to get that conversation started. It's literally money flowing out of the ground and into our economy.’”

What’s wrong with this picture?

Eco-freaks say the potential for environmental damage is immense. Any oil spill offshore could potentially end up on the beaches, reaping untold havoc to not only marine life but also the state’s tourist industry.

Ed Chiles, owner of the Sandbar, BeachHouse and Mar Vista restaurants, has estimated that a red tide outbreak costs something like $20 million a month in losses to business where the algae bloom strikes, due to people going elsewhere in the state.

Take an oil spill, add years of cleanup, and do the math on the potential financial damage.

Oil proponents, and there are many, say that current technology is so improved that the mere thought of a spill is moot. Remember that $2.3 billion a year? Remember current economic conditions? Remember $5-a-gallon gas?

Legislative proposals to date center on allowing the governor and cabinet to be allowed to discuss and have authority to allow oil and natural gas exploration and eventual drilling in the Gulf. It’s not a mandate for such action.

And Congress has authority for oil and gas matters beyond the 9-mile-limit from the coastline.

Business enters the picture

You gotta love the concept of an article by Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times Tallahassee bureau writer Mary Ellen Klas: “Well-oiled group pushing for oil exploration in Gulf.”

It seems that something called the Florida Energy Associates has formed to push for the end of the 20-year oil and gas exploration moratorium in the Gulf. The group has hired lobbyists, public relations professionals, financial gurus and even pollsters to help make their pitch.

A strong supporter is Associated Industries of Florida and its president, Barney Bishop. Associated Industries is pretty much the fifth element of Florida government, right after the governor, senate and house of representatives, and the supreme court, in no particular order.

“I predict we'll pass the bill and the governor will sign it,” Bishop told the Herald/Times.

As a balm to eventual environmental opposition, legislative leaders have said they’ll use part of the oil and gas revenue coming to the state for Everglades cleanup actions, as well as buying conservation property and developing alternative energy sources. And, of course, programs for children.

Polling from April revealed 59 percent of Floridians supported drilling off Florida’s coasts, with 88 percent supporting exploration as long as there would be no threat to the environment. Polling in July went for 65 percent for and 29 percent opposed.

Susan Glickman of the Natural Resources Defense Council told the Herald/Times, “Funders with deep pockets are coming to our state trying to ram down a drastic policy that the public will reject. When people have the ability to look at the real facts in this situation, Florida will reject off-shore drilling as they have for decades.”

Where’s the crude?

So cutting to the chase, just where is the black sunshine in the Gulf?

Well, decades-old reports indicate that there isn’t much in the way of oil or natural gas off Island shores.

There could be a puddle of oil off Naples.

There seems to be a big pocket of natural gas off the Panhandle.

And international oil conglomerate BP late last week said it found a huge deposit of crude in the deep Gulf off Texas, 250 miles or so southeast from Houston.

Really huge.

The Associated Press reported that something called the Tiber Prospect could end up producing between 4 to 6 billion barrels of oil, plus natural gas. It’s ranked as one of the largest petroleum discoveries in the United States.

There’s a bit of a problem with the discovery.

It’s way deep beneath the surface of the Gulf.

By the numbers, the AP put it as “35,055 feet down, as deep as Mount Everest is tall, not including 4,132 feet of water above it.”

Getting a drop to pump to the surface is years away, of course. And whatever comes out is literally a drop in the barrel from what comes from Saudi Arabia, which is cranking out 5 million barrels a day.

The Tiber oil source will be expensive to “grow.”

The AP said “a production platform costs more than $1 billion to build. Drilling a deep-water well can add another $100 million, and if crude is located, it could cost another $50 million to bring the oil to the surface. For a project like Tiber to pay off, experts say crude must cost at least $70 to $75 per barrel, though lower prices have never slowed the industry.”

Oil is hovering around $71 per barrel today. In years ahead, who knows what the price will bring.

Sandscript factoid

Directly from the AP comes this:

“BP’s discovery is the latest in what's called the lower tertiary region, an ancient section of rock in the Gulf that is roughly 300 square miles and formed between 24 million and 65 million years ago. In 2006, Chevron estimated that the lower tertiary holds between 3 billion and 15 billion barrels.”

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