Friday, 11 September 2009 11:08

To Drill or Not to Drill? - A Debate on Offshore Drilling off Pinellas County Beaches

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Offshore Drilling Oil RigsAt the Sheraton Sand Key resort on, as Mayor Frank Hibbard called it, “beautiful Clearwater Beach, which we want to keep beautiful,” the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted an offshore drilling symposium† on August 28th to address this hot-button issue, an issue that could greatly impact Pinellas County. A balanced panel featuring three men for drilling, and three against it, spoke and debated.

David Rancourt, founder of advocacy firm Southern Strategies, declared that America must wean herself off of foreign oil, and eventually oil altogether. Energy independence is necessary in restoring our great nation, he says, hence the production of our own oil is important. While supporting offshore drilling, he says Florida also needs an investment in biofuels and solar energy, but believes this is only possible with oil-generated revenue to fund the investment.

The amount of revenue offshore drilling may generate, especially in the local economy and with regard for the potential threat to currently established industries, such a tourism, was hotly if inconclusively debated. Economist Hank Fishkind estimated that if oil averages $75 a barrel, the state could expect to receive as much as $2 billion in revenue. Opponents of drilling countered that $2 billion may sound like a lot of money, but is paltry compared to the $62 billion tourism produces. Eric Draper of the Audobon Society declared it “unwise” to risk $62 billion against the possibility of $2 billion. “We don’t want to put your economy at risk.”

D.T. Minich, Executive Director of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, the area’s convention and visitors’ bureau, should know the importance of tourism to Florida and locally. He questioned the safety of oil rigs, and talked about the potential harm to the tourist industry and natural beauty of the area. The current proposal for offshore drilling calls for “jack-rigs”, basically temporary, portable rigs, to be used. Supporters call the technology a proven, safe alternative to conventional rigs, but Minich disputes this claim, citing a current oil slick off Australia as an example of the harm such rigs might bring to our beaches.

The slick was caused by a jack-rig using the same technology being proposed here. The accident occurred during the drilling and development phase, said to be riskier than during production. “We have a real life example of what is going on now,” he said. “For anyone to say this is safe… I don’t know how they could propose that.”

Another threat to the Beach’s tourism is the potential of “tar balls”, globules of thick oil (“tar”) that sometimes wash ashore near active off-shore drilling. On some Texas beaches, hotels have taken to providing special wipes and mats for patrons to clean the tar off their feet rather that track it into the lobby when coming off the beach.

Phil Compton of the Sierra Club cited EPA studies indicating that potentially carcinogenic chemicals related to oil production actually get into the water, and may contaminate fish stocks and render them inedible, impacting both commercial and recreational fisheries. Compton also questioned what real benefit to the Florida economy would be generated, with the oil being sold on the international market and not being reserved for Floridian gas-tanks. He also questioned the motives behind so much push for new drilling, during a glut market with rigs and refineries scaling back production in other areas.

Compton left the audience with one message, “Your voice must be heard at this time.” Whether one is for off-shore drilling or against, the citizens of Pinellas County, who live and play here year round, have the most at stake. We cannot afford to let others decide the fate of our beaches and communities; we must get involved, study the issues, and make our voices heard by letting our state representatives know what we think.

What do you think about offshore drilling? Leave your comments on this issue below.

Offshore drilling or offshore racing? - You decide here.  



† Symposium: A meeting or conference for the public discussion of some topic especially one in which the
participants form an audience and make presentations.

Read 1496 times Last modified on Thursday, 15 October 2009 11:09

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