The Sarasota Tiger Bay Club’s monthly meeting Nov. 19, which centered on the topic “Drilling for Oil,” fostered a heated debate among oil-drilling supporters and opponents — essentially economy versus the environment.
Glenn Compton, a long-time Venice resident and chairman of non-profit, environmental- watchdog group Manasota-88, told those in attendance at Michael’s On East that “it’s the height of irresponsibility for elected officials to support offshore oil drilling.”
“The facts are, our economy is based off clean beaches and is driven by tourism,” Compton said. “I never want to see drilling here off our shores. Not now — not ever.”
But David Rancourt, a Tallahassee-based political adviser, lobbyist consultant and founding partner of advocacy firm Southern Strategy Group, said this country “is facing desperate and difficult times.”
“Unless we deal with them, this country may not continue to be the greatest country on the face of this earth,” said Rancourt, who urged those in attendance to realize the United States can’t be dependent on foreign oil any longer.
Honey Rand, a Sarasota native and former communications director of Mote Marine Laboratory and author of “Water Wars,” cut Rancourt’s speech in half by saying, “Those of us who oppose oil drilling are not un-American.”
“Sarasota is my home and is one of the most beautiful places in the world,” Rand said. “Let’s not ruin it.”
Dr. Eugene Shinn, a retired senior geologist from the U.S. Geological Survey, a former Shell Oil employee and a University of South Florida professor, said that if the country and this state don’t find more oil, “more tankers will be polluting the earth and banging into each other.”
Shinn also brought a list of sand samples from the coastlines of Texas, Louisiana and Florida to show that oil drilling has no effect on sand quality.
Shinn, who helped the state drill 38 wells off Florida and 14 wells off the Florida Keys, urged people to give drilling a chance.
“I would like to see us get alternative energy sources, too, but you are stuck with oil for another 20 or 30 years at least,” he said.
Rancourt said 70% of the oil the U.S. consumes comes from foreign sources.
But Compton said it seems reckless for the country to use up its oil reserves (3% of oil reserves worldwide).
“In this miserable economy, our tourism industry provides more than $3 billion annually,” Rand said. “We need to ask ourselves if oil drilling is a risk we are willing to take.”
Rancourt said a bill will most likely be proposed by both the state’s House of Representatives and the Senate next year, which would lift the oil-drilling ban and give oil companies the opportunity to ask for drilling contracts off the west coast of Florida.
“The bill will merely give the state an opportunity to learn the value of the asset,” Rancourt said. “I believe we ought to explore the value and learn whether it’s worth it.”
The two sides agreed to disagree while taking questions from the audience.
Rancourt said he wouldn’t support any bill that spoils the state’s beaches, explaining that any permit would come with conditions for protecting residents and beaches.
Shinn said oil companies wouldn’t find much oil off the west coast of Florida anyway.
But the back-and-forth discussion continued.
The two groups also debated whether sonar technology used to find oil is detrimental to the Gulf’s bottom, the natural reefs and the aquatic life.
The Longboat Key Town Commission and the Manatee and Sarasota county commissions have signed resolutions that oppose oil drilling off Florida’s coast.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at email@example.com.
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