The handwriting was on the wall when a
leading U.S. auto manufacturer announced production of a 10-mile-to-the-gallon
behemoth to make the suburban trek between home and the ubiquitous
coffee emporia. It was a sure sign the nation's latest energy-guzzling
bender had spun out of control.
The aftermath of the longtime party: A national "energy
crisis" that's shaping up to be one doozy of a hangover.
There's the expected hue and cry from that segment
of the citizenry that considers cheap gasoline to be its birthright;
the governor of California threatening to seize a major energy supplier's
power plants; and the chant of "NIMBY" -- or Not In My Back Yard
-- resonating throughout the petroleum-gorging state of Florida.
The upside to this mess: It appears the United States.
might finally get a viable energy policy, provided its planners
and supporters can hold their ground once the draft of the policy
goes before the recently-rebalanced Congress.
Total national energy self-sufficiency may be only
a pipe dream. Yet, there are some vast, previously-untapped hydrocarbon
resources that could do much to stem the tide of dwindling domestic
production, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR),
Rocky Mountain federal lands and certain offshore Gulf of Mexico
While opposition by environmental activists and politicians
to ANWR development has been some of the most vocal, the mayor of
Anchorage, Alaska, publicly cites the successful, non-invasive 25-year
production history from Alaska's Prudhoe Bay as proof positive that
the coastal plain of ANWR can be explored and developed without
harming the environment.
Edging ANWR off the front pages lately is the
[PFItemLinkShortcode|id:20836|type:standard|anchorText:rising rage within Florida over the proposed Outer Continental Shelf|cssClass:asshref|title:read East Gulf Potential Attractive|PFItemLinkShortcode]
(OCS) lease sale under the aegis of the Minerals Management Service
(MMS) in the eastern GOM, where some impressive accumulations of
hydrocarbons are projected to exist.
Adding intrigue to the hot issue is the sibling tug-of-war
it's triggered between Sunshine State Governor Jeb Bush, who opposes
the sale, and proponent George W. Bush.
Defining the Need
proposed Lease Sale 181 would be the first in the eastern GOM since
The sale area encompasses about 5.9 million acres,
or roughly 8 percent of the total Eastern Planning Area. It includes
120 blocks in a narrow band offshore Alabama, along with 913 blocks
in deeper water closer to Louisiana than Florida and adjacent to
the prolifically productive Mississippi Canyon area in the Central
The program boundaries were carefully drawn to accommodate
Florida's long-standing demand for a 100-mile buffer zone from its
coastline, as well as a more recent request by the state of Alabama
for a 15-mile buffer offshore Baldwin County.
Hydrocarbon resource numbers for the largely unexplored
acreage included in the Sale 181 program vary depending on the source.
MMS numbers for the undiscovered, conventionally
recoverable resources of the area, said deputy regional supervisor
for resource evaluation David Marin, are:
0.650-1.446 Bbo (Mean = 0.843 Bbo).
3.233-5.193 Tcf (Mean = 3.8555 Tcf).
The National Petroleum Council's 1999 study on natural
gas attributes the lease area with the potential to produce a hefty
7.8 Tcf and 1.9 Bbo, according to C. Stedman Garber Jr., current
vice-chairman of the IADC and president and CEO of Santa Fe International
These volumes take on added meaning when placed in
the context of Florida's voracious energy appetite. Indeed, the
state ranks as the nation's third largest consumer of petroleum
products, and yet it produces only 2 percent of the petroleum it
consumes, according to Florida Energy Information data derived from
the Department of Energy's Florida Energy Profile (1997) and the
MMS Lease Sale 181 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Moreover, South Florida's population is expected
to double to eight million by 2010, and its electricity demand is
expected to double from 1.5 Bcf/day in 2000 to 3.0 Bcf/day in 2008.
Twenty-four new electrical generating plants will have been or will
be added to the Florida power grid from 1995 to 2004, with 21 of
these designed to be gas-fired.
Stedman noted the natural gas from the lease sale
region alone could satisfy the current natural gas needs of Florida's
5.9 million households for the next 16 years.
Still, the anti-drilling folks talk of dire consequences
should Lease Sale 181 occur. They predict massive oil spills --
from natural gas wells -- that will defile the perennially tourist-packed,
white-sand beaches and destroy fish habitats, among other frightening
Ironically, Gulf Breeze-based pro-drilling activist
Klaus Gohrbandt, a retired Chevron petroleum geologist, noted, "I'm
an avid fisherman, and when we want to fish we head to Alabama,
because the good catches are around the rigs."
The state's official NIMBY stance on oil and gas
production is well-documented in its long-standing battle with Chevron
over development of Destin Dome Block 56. The field lies 25 miles
south of Pensacola and 20 miles east of the so-called "stovepipe"
section of the Lease Sale 181 area. Block 56 is projected to harbor
from 1 to 3 Tcf of dry, natural gas, according to the Florida Energy
Destin Dome is part of the Jurassic Norphlet Trend
-- a major producing natural gas trend that extends westward in
the GOM from the Destin Dome blocks to offshore blocks south of
Chevron acquired leases there in 1984, prior to leasing
moratoria off much of the Florida coast, imposed during the elder
Bush's White House tenure, said MMS spokesperson A.B. Wade.
The company submitted an exploration plan to both
the MMS and the state of Florida, in accordance with the Coastal
Zone Management Act, to seek approval to proceed with drilling operations.
Florida rejected the plan, but the U.S. Commerce
Department overruled the denial, and Chevron proceeded to drill
to delineate the lease. A development plan submitted in 1996 was
again rejected by Florida and now awaits a decision from Commerce.
Despite the prevalent political and environmental-activist
NIMBY rhetoric regarding Lease Sale 181, Gohrbandt is far from alone
in recognizing the state's tenuous energy situation and the need
to attain some degree of self-sufficiency.
"I'm tired of Florida being a politically-created
energy welfare state," said Bill Boe, a retired Gainsville history
teacher and native Floridian.
"Florida is part of the energy problem," he said,
" and we just expect other people to send their energy to us.
"There's a huge number of us vets living here," Boe
continued, "and we all agree we'd rather risk some millimeter of
something on our beaches than see more buckets of American blood
spilled defending oil wells in the Middle East."
Scoffing at predictions of environmental damage from
drilling, Boe asserts the greatest environmental disaster in Florida's
history is the overpopulation of its coastal wetlands, with 13 million
people living within 30 miles of the coast.
Boe doesn't just talk the talk. His pro-drilling
campaign agenda includes an upcoming visit to the nation's capitol
at his expense to lobby members of Florida's congressional delegation
to ditch "a political strategy of fear and help the state become
more energy independent."
The Sunshine State doesn't have far to go to acquire
other people's energy.
The Central Gulf is a veritable hotbed of drilling
activity, and the governors of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana
are on record in favor of the proposed lease sale. They cite the
jobs it will create, the dollars to be spent on products and services
by the industry and the need for the additional energy supply.
Indeed, the MMS expects the central Gulf Coast region
to benefit from as many as 5,534 jobs during peak activity, most
likely in the year 2019. There would be 1,691 jobs created indirectly,
with 2,202 additional jobs in the private sector.
When preparing the initial EIS for the proposed lease
sale, the federal agency analyzed numerous factors and what the
potential environmental effects might be. These include:
- Air and water quality.
- Oil spill risk.
- Sea-bottom habitats for marine life.
- Military operations in this area of the GOM.
The agency reveiwed three alternatives relative to
the proposed sale:
- All unleased blocks within Lease Sale 181 area would be offered
- Defer 126 blocks in the eastern area due to possible conflicts
between oil and gas operations and military operations.
- No Action, which is equivalent to canceling the sale.
Once the Final EIS is complete sometime early in
July, the agency will select one of these alternatives.
For now, the sale is planned to occur in December,
with October being the "drop dead" date for a final decision, according
to Wade at the MMS.
"This is because industry needs to know," she said,
"and, by law, we must have time to issue the final notice and then
have a public comment period."
"I think they'll definitely hold the sale," Gohrbandt
said, "and we need this gas badly."
Still, his congressional representative, Joe Scarborough,
R-Pensacola, said it's not going to come from Lease Sale 181, because
"my back yard depends on a clean environment."
He doesn't specify where, in fact it will come from.