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Energy Tomorrow Radio: Episode 105 - Rep. Dean Cannon: Benefits vs. Risks of Drilling off Florida's

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted April 20, 2010

In today's episode, I interview Rep. Dean Cannon, Speaker Designate of the Florida House of Representatives, about his bill to open up Florida's State-owned waters to offshore drilling. Rep. Cannon says this proposed bill would help boost the state's economy while protecting Florida's tourism sector. He also references a recent study, conducted by the Willis Group, which shows the low risks associated with offshore drilling.

Use the audio player below to listen to information about the article and follow along with the show notes. I hope you find the podcast informative.

00:17 At the end of March, President Obama announced plans to open portions of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to offshore oil and natural gas development, but his plans cover only federal waters, not state-controlled waters. Now the State of Florida is considering a bill that would open its waters to offshore energy development. To discuss the bill, we have the Speaker Designate of the Florida House of Representatives, Dean Cannon.

00:46 First of all, please describe the offshore areas that are under Florida's jurisdiction.

00:51 Rep. Cannon: Florida's territorial waters basically extend from the shoreline out. This extends about 3.3 miles off the Atlantic Coast and approximately 10.3 miles off the Gulf Coast.

01:12 You've introduced a bill that would open Florida's waters to offshore development. Please describe how that would work if it were enacted.

01:19 Rep. Cannon: The core of the bill doesn't actually allow drilling in any specific area, but does authorize our Governor and Cabinet, which is the State's group in charge of state-sovereign submerged land, to receive proposals for offshore energy exploration. The bill has a couple safeguards. For example, it would prevent any permanent above-water structures to be visible from the beach. Clearly, in Florida our beaches are one of our most precious resources, and we don't want anything that would be visible from the beach. Second, it would require the most modern technological developments, including potentially directional drilling. Third, it would be required to go through an extensive environmental permitting process. It would also include so-called "zero emissions" drilling, which means they couldn't allow any fluids to get into the waters. It also would not in any way interfere with Florida's military base presence. We have a large contingency of bases, especially in the Panhandle. As a guy that was born on an Air Force base in Western Europe, it was very important to me that we didn't do anything that would interfere with our military men and women or our bases.

02:40 Let's move along to the economy. How would Florida benefit from offshore development?

02:47 Rep. Cannon: Right now, Florida needs revenue. We need jobs and we need energy. Offshore energy exploration provides jobs, revenue and energy. I'm proud of the work we're doing to become a leader in renewable fuels, but the truth is we are dependent on oil and natural gas right now and a tremendous extent on foreign sources. We should do anything we can to access the mineral resources today to help bridge the gap until we can develop nuclear and other alternative sources. I'm fond of saying that energy security is part of national security, and energy security is part of economic security. That's why I think if we have those resources right here in our own state and we can access them safely and environmentally responsibly, we should definitely do so.

03:42 There are some polls that have been conducted in your state that show that the majority of Floridians support offshore drilling. Are you receiving a lot of support for your bill?

03:52 Rep. Cannon: Absolutely. I think most folks say that we should access oil and natural gas if we have it. Some of them say they support it without any conditions. Even if you ask those people with reservations "if development was done out of sight?" they go from maybe uncommitted to supporting it. If you ask, "if we could do so without it ever being visible and in a modern and environmentally safe way?" the support goes to almost 80 percent. I think we have both common sense support, as well as scientific support. We've heard a lot of testimony in my Select Policy Council, including members of the Federal Minerals Management Service (MMS), the Coast Guard and the Florida Association of Professional Geologists who say we really can access these minerals safely.

04:40 There are critics, though, who question the wisdom of having offshore development and are concerned about the state's tourism industry. How do you respond to them?

04:50 Rep. Cannon: I take any of those concerns very seriously. My district is in Orlando, which in some respects is the tourism capital of the world, and I don't believe responsible energy exploration will have any negative impact on tourism. I also think that those who are concerned about the impact on tourism fail to see we have a much greater risk from the shipping that occurs in our ports every day. We import approximately 11 million barrels of oil per day and the only oil spills that have touched the Florida shores are from shipping. Drilling is about 800 percent safer than shipping. Those who are concerned about a potential hazard to tourism should logically be more in favor of the drilling than the shipping that happens every day.

05:41 I understand you held several hearings about the pros and cons of offshore energy development, including one recently that featured some risk analysts who have written a study addressing the likelihood of oil spills. What did they tell you?

05:57 Rep. Cannon: They basically said any activity, whether it's commercial airline travel or driving your car on the road, has some risk with it, but that the risk of drilling is frankly much less than the risks Floridians live with every day, including hurricanes, red tide and all the other hazards we face as a tropical region state. We hired the Willis Group to conduct a study to hear from both the proponents and the opponents. The Willis Group is based out of England and countries and governments all over the world rely on them for risk analyses. I'm very proud of the work they did because I think it was fair, impartial and it gave me a lot of comfort to know the benefits far outweigh the risks.

06:50 Now this isn't the first time the Florida legislature has considered a bill to open Florida's water to drilling. What happened last time?

06:59 Rep. Cannon: Last year, we proposed this from the House, but the Senate was not willing to take it up. Unfortunately, it looks like the same thing may happen this year. I'm encouraged, however, because the Senate sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Mike Haridopolos, who will be my counterpart as the incoming Senate President, favors this issue. It's impossible to tell, but the likelihood is not good that it will happen this year. However, I think it looks much better for next year and this will give us more time to get the bill in better shape.

07:44 You sound pretty positive that this is going to be enacted one of these days.

07:48 Rep. Cannon: I'm pretty optimistic. There's a broad spectrum of support for it and I think it's the right thing to do. We try to be very respectful of those who have differing viewpoints. We also listen to the science not just the rhetoric and not let emotion on either side guide the debate, but instead rely upon on the facts. I'm pretty optimistic that we'll get it done, if not this year, next year.

08:16 Mr. Cannon thanks for joining us today on Energy Tomorrow Radio.