Backers Hope Drilling Pumps Interest in Florida
Supporters of allowing drilling off Florida's Gulf Coast are hoping pushes to drill near the coast of two islands just beyond the state's southern shores will make waves in the debate about oil production here.
As Congress debates authorizing drilling as close as 10 miles off the Florida Gulf coastline and supporters push for a referendum on a drilling plan not approved this year by the Legislature, Florida Petroleum Council executive director David Mica said Cuba and the Bahamas are both moving quickly toward allowing drilling in their waters.
The contrast with the U.S. in general - and Florida in particular - is stark: a plan to allow drilling emerged late in the 2009 session, passing the House but running out of gas in the Senate. The U.S. Senate Energy Committee approved a similar proposal earlier this month, though it has yet to be taken up by the full chamber.
But in Cuba and the Bahamas, increased drilling is moving forward quickly.
"They have plans moving forward and it looks like (the Cubans) have a rig that will be ready to go soon while we're mired in discussions in the U.S. about expanding access," Mica told the News Service Monday.
Making matters worse, he added, is that the new Caribbean drilling will have a distinctly American feel to it, even if the oil and gas discovered there does not go to U.S. producers.
"It won't be anything like we haven't seen before," Mica said. "They'll use a lot of U.S. developed technology. It's frustrating to some partners and competitors, but I guess it's part of globalization."
Mica said that any Florida momentum that could be built by the neighboring islands' push for more drilling could be hampered by icy relations between the U.S. and Cuba. The Cuba drilling will be conducted by a group of Spanish companies and a Norwegian firm, he said.
But supporting Caribbean oil drilling, or using it as an example of possibilities in the U.S., does not have to be political, Mica said.
"We do business in some pretty hostile places in the world," he said. "We do our best to go in and get the resources and get them to the global marketplace. "
There could be political benefits to the drilling in the Caribbean, especially in Cuba, Mica said. If American companies were allowed to apply for leases to drill off Cuba's coast , relations between the two nations could slightly improve, he said.
"Resources can provide the opportunity to build relationships," he said. "I think its important that we find ways to have global commerce without taking a position on the politics. Sometimes commerce like that can lead to democratic reforms and progress."
University of Miami energy fellow and former Amoco Corp. Development Company Latin America president Jorge Piñón agreed that drilling in Cuban and the Bahamas could increase support for it here.
"If Cuba and the Bahamas drill, the argument against it in Florida is weakened," Piñón said. "When you add Canada and Mexico, that's four countries with which we share a maritime border that will be drilling off their coasts. I don't see how Florida can continue to fight for the moratorium when all around them people are drilling."
"If anybody has a problem with Cuba, they should look at the Bahamas, Mexico, Louisiana and Texas," he said.
However, a prime opponent of drilling in Florida waters, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, said over the weekend that he was prepared to lead the charge against any push in Florida or in Congress for more extraction. And he’s calling into question the idea pushed by supporters that it could help the state financially.
"I've had a few questions lately about this idea of Florida getting oil-drilling revenues to help with its sagging budget - and things like schools," Nelson wrote in a guest column for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "If you're swayed by this argument and Big Oil's latest push to put rigs off the tourism state, you need to know something: Oil money from federal leases cannot be used for that kind of stuff. It can only be used to clean up the mess and damages from drilling."
"Fact is, oil money won't build schools, or roads, or pay teachers," Nelson continued. "It'll just mitigate...the oil industry's ruination of the fourth largest state's economy and environment."