(Updated on 6-3, below)
When Gov. Charlie Crist recently spoke of having a special session to put an oil drilling ban on the November ballot, one of the legislators who pushed so hard to lift the ban on drilling in the first place, Republican Dean Cannon said he didn’t think that was necessary.
But the top two proponents of the drilling proposal, incoming legislative leaders Dean Cannon and Mike Haridopolos, said they don’t see the need for a special session. They took an aerial tour of the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday and said later that they will halt all drilling talk — for now.
Cannon, the next House speaker, said that although he has spent the last year developing legislation that would open Florida waters to oil and gas exploration three to 10 miles out, he is prepared to put the idea on hold. But he does not think that a special session and constitutional amendment are needed.
Cannon said he will halt drilling talk FOR NOW. I don’t know about you, but that sounds to me like he’s not giving up drilling off Florida altogether. After all, he pushed so hard to get the ban lifted that he convinced Florida House Speaker Larry Cretul to spend $200,000 of taxpayer money to finance a study to say that the risks of drilling would be minimal to Florida, even though there was already a study out there that said something quite different.
Shortly before the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf, the Florida House spent $200,000 for a study of oil drilling off Florida’s coast which said any spills would be rare, small and easily contained.
Now, a leading environmental lawyer and Congresswoman Castor are calling the original study misleading and a waste of taxpayer money – especially since another well-respected think-tank had just issued its own report about drilling off Florida’s coast.
The Willis Group study received almost no coverage in the media, and neither the lawmakers who commissioned it nor the men who completed the study were willing to talk with WUSF about it.
The report by the Willis Group cost $200,000 because it was a “rush job,” according to Jill Chamberlin, spokeswoman for Florida House Speaker Larry Cretul.
She says Cretul commissioned the report at the request of Rep. Dean Cannon, who’s in line to become the next House Speaker. Cannon has led the effort to allow oil drilling in Florida’s territorial waters, which reach about 10 miles offshore in the Gulf.
A “rush job” that played down the risks evident in the other study. Here’s a portion of that $200,000 fast-tracked study from The Willis Group:
4.1.5 Blowout and risk of oil spills
In Section 3.1, we discussed that while there have been a number of blowouts during drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, none have resulted in an oil spill. However, we also noted that while very minimal, the risk still existed. The Willis Energy Loss Database (WELD) records 180 blowouts since 1990 in the Gulf of Mexico during well drilling and well completion operations, when on average 104 drilling rigs per year were exposed to blowout. In contrast, it only records 7 blowouts for producing wells and 9 for wells being worked over (i.e. producing wells undergoing maintenance), related to an exposure base of approximately 3,800 production platforms. Therefore it is reasonable to conclude that the probability of a blowout relating to production platforms in Florida’s Gulf Coast State waters is exceptionally low.
Compare that to the already existing study from The Collins Center:
Just a bit different. Add to that:
Charles Barder helped write the 180-page report for the Willis Group. At the April hearing, he said the risk of a blowout was very low.
“The vast majority of (blowouts) are dealt with extremely effectively and without spills,” Barder said. “And they happen from time to time, they are not normally the cause of major spills.
“So very, very occasional severity, but definitely not a frequency issue. We estimate one percent risk a year,” he said.
Phil Ellis, chairman of Willis Global Energy, told lawmakers the risks from oil drilling are “serious, but manageable.”
“The risk of damage to natural human habitats from hurricanes far outweighs anything that you’ll ever see from this industry,” Ellis said at the time.
The Willis Group created a model to measure the risk of an oil spill in Florida’s territorial waters, if drilling was allowed. The average spill per year was estimated between 52 and 182 barrels a year.
Compare that to the 12,000 barrels per day low-end estimate from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Ellis admitted to lawmakers at the time that his estimate appeared too low.
“These numbers seem awfully low – they are awfully low – and the reason is because there haven’t been that many spills in the Gulf of Mexico in general in the last 20 years,” he said.
Oil drilling opponents say the study downplayed the risks from the start.
“This study wasn’t simply tilted or slanted. I would say it’s downright deceptive,” said David Guest, head of the Florida chapter of the environmental law firm Earthjustice.
He says the study’s focus on spills in the Gulf leaves out the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska and a big blowout last year off Australia.
And the study’s focus on the past 20 years leaves out the disastrous spill in Campeche Bay in Mexico in 1979.
Guest isn’t the only one questioning the study. So is long-time drilling foe, Congresswoman Kathy Castor of Tampa.
“It’s outrageous that taxpayer money was being used, especially looking back today,” she said. “They have no credibility. I think you can throw that study in the garbage can.”
So when Dean Cannon says drilling talks are off the table for now, I think we can take him at his word. “For now” doesn’t exactly sound like “never”, and he’s willing to spend your tax dollars to make it possible. Plus he’s saved you the “hassle” of being able to vote on a drilling ban in the future.
-June 3, 2010
Scott Maddox, a Democrat running for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, has called on the Republican Party of Florida to reimburse Florida taxpayers for the $200,000 for the study by the Willis Group:
Today Scott Maddox called on the Republican Party of Florida to reimburse taxpayers for the money their leaders wasted on an admittedly rushed pro-oil sham study.
“They have raised far more than $200,000 from the oil industry and their lobbyists, and that money should be given to taxpayers to pay for the Republican sham study. Given the fact that the leadership of the Republican House commissioned this so-called study, it would only be fair that taxpayers are reimbursed from monies that they presumably raised for their party,” stated Maddox.
The study by the Willis Group is being seen as little more than biased window dressing as it most notably claims that any oil spill would likely be “rare, small and easily contained.” At least one independent and respected voice, attorney David Guest, claims the study was “downright deceptive.” He also noted that in its analysis, the Willis group did not even consider a 2009 leak off the coast of Australia.
The study was commissioned around the same time that a non-partisan study by the CollinsCenter for Public Policy showed considerably higher risks to Florida’s coastline but the GOP spokesperson denied that the Willis study was commissioned in response to the Collins Center’s report.
“Given the clear and obvious political motivations for this rush job of a study, taxpayers should be made whole via political donations made to the Republican party by the oil industry and their lobbyists,” added Maddox.