Interests Differ on Money Drilling Would Bring In
Florida’s fight over oil-drilling Wednesday pivoted on green issues – as in dollars.
Environmentalists challenged claims by drilling supporters that energy exploration along Florida’s Gulf coast could draw as much as $2.25 billion-a-year into the state’s recession-ravaged budget.
Mike Sole, secretary of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, also told the House Select Policy Council on Strategic and Economic Planning that drilling in nearby Gulf states draws much less on average than the dollars promised by Florida Energy Associates, independent oil companies lobbying heavily for lawmakers to lift the state’s 20-year-old drilling ban.
Alabama, for example, takes in between $50 million and $300 million from oil royalties and severance taxes, while Texas’ share is about $45 million annually, Sole said.
“At the same time, $50 to $300 million isn’t small money,” Sole said. “We’re keeping an open mind. Let’s get the facts….but we want to share the concerns of competing resources in a developing state like Florida is very real.”
But the offshore oil initiative is certain to bring “quality jobs to Florida and not insignificant revenues into state coffers,” said Eric Hamilton of the Florida Petroleum Council, a supporter of eliminating the moratorium on drilling.
Rep. Jennifer Carroll, R-Green Cove Springs, also challenged those downplaying the dollar potential of drilling. She said no one really knows how much money the state could earn, since the volume of oil offshore is also an unknown.
"All the dollars are just speculation right now," she said.
The House council, chaired by a leading oil exploration proponent, Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, heard from a range of representatives of both sides of the drilling issue in an afternoon-long workshop. Cannon said the hearing was the first of many to hash out the array of issues contained in the drilling effort – which was backed by the House last spring but rejected by the Senate, which remains skeptical of the effort.
Eric Draper, lobbyist for the Florida Audubon Society, warned that overcoming legal challenges to drilling that are certain to emerge if the plan is approved by lawmakers would add years to a lengthy time frame he says would exist before the state saw a dollar from energy companies.
“If you’re thinking this will help with the budget problems of the next two or three years, don’t count on it,” Draper said.