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Last month, the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed a bill sponsored by Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, that would allow for drilling in federal waters within 50 miles of Florida’s coastline. The bill passed the committee 12-10 along a straight party-line vote. It now awaits consideration by the full Senate after the summer recess. If passed and signed by the president, the new law would replace existing federal guidelines that maintain a 125-mile zone buffer around Florida. Senator Bill Nelson, D-Florida, was predictably livid, and he vowed to use every procedural tactic at his disposal to block the pending legislation.
As the bill’s sponsor, Cassidy claims that increased access near the Florida coastline will result in an additional million barrels of oil each day, billions of dollars of additional royalties and lots of new, high-paying jobs for Floridians. This sounds so familiar. In 2009 and 2010, our state Legislature came very close to lifting a moratorium on drilling activity in state waters within 9 miles of the shoreline, and similar claims were made. I remember it well because I was the lead author for a report on the potential impacts of this policy change that was written by the Collins Center for Public Policy on behalf of the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida.
Our report considered a broad range of potential risks and rewards associated with drilling near the Florida coastline. It did not offer recommendations because that was not within our charge (the report was requested by former Senate President Jeff Atwater). Some of our most important insights, however, concerned the estimates for oil and gas resources in the eastern Gulf of Mexico that are off-limits to drilling. This included estimates for Florida’s coastal waters as well as the eastern Gulf areas under the federal moratorium.
Suffice to say there’s not much to get excited about. There may very well be lucrative oil and gas deposits in an area near the Panhandle known as the Destin Dome that could generate meaningful profits for a few oil and gas firms. But claims of an additional million barrels of oil per day are bogus…