Oil-and-gas rigs that can be seen from the shores of Longboat Key could become a reality.
The Longboat Key Town Commission and Town Manager Bruce St. Denis were recently informed at a Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association conference that oil drilling off the west coast of Florida could be discussed at a special, two-day Legislative session that could be scheduled for later this month.
“Longboat Key is in the Sarasota-Tampa arch of possible oil-drilling fields,” St. Denis said at the commission’s Thursday, Sept. 24 regular workshop.
Explaining that oil-and-gas rigs could be placed three-to-nine miles offshore, which would be visible from the beach, St. Denis brought forward a resolution that opposes oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico off the west coast of Florida.
The move comes in response to the oil-and-gas industry, which persuaded lawmakers to vote in April for a bill that opens state waters to exploration for oil- and-gas drilling. Drilling, the oil-and-gas industry says, could increase revenues for a state with increasing budget woes.
The bill that was approved by the Florida House, but not the Senate, lifts Florida’s ban on oil drilling in state waters and replaces it with a plan to allow the governor and the Florida Cabinet to seek bidders for exploration and drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
Environmentalists and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a long-time opponent of drilling off Florida’s coasts, have heavily criticized the bill.
If the topic is not discussed this month, it will be one of the top priorities of the Legislature starting this winter.
Nelson spoke at the beach conference attended by Longboat Key commissioners last month, urging local leaders to voice their displeasure with the bill and any future plans for oil rigs off Florida’s shores.
Nelson could not be reached for comment for this story, but in a statement on his Web site, he writes: “I can’t believe some Florida lawmakers might actually be serious about allowing oil drilling within 10 miles offshore.”
Orlando economist Hank Fishkind told lawmakers earlier this year that 15-year-old federal estimates indicate there is roughly 3 billion gallons of oil off Florida’s coast. If 150 million barrels were drilled each year, at a rate of $53 per barrel and 20% royalties, Fishkind said the state would earn $31 billion over 20 years, or $1.6 billion a year.
Fishkind also predicted that oil-and-gas production would produce 17,000 to 20,000 jobs.
But the sight of oil drills from the beach would impact tourism revenues and quality of life in this area dramatically, according to Virginia Haley, president of the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“The last thing we want is beaches like they have in Texas, which include directions that teach people how to wipe the tar balls off their feet,” Haley said. “In my opinion, we need to be able to stand on the highest condominium floor on Longboat Key and not see anything but clear, blue water.”
Commissioners, who take action on resolutions based on the island’s populace, are worried about taking formal action on the resolution against oil drilling at their Monday, Oct. 5 regular meeting until they hear from residents.
“We aren’t sure what the citizens of our town think about this,” said Commissioner Peter O’Connor.
“Residents will have to tell us what they want us to do as soon as possible.”