Academics Dig Into Offshore Drilling Debate

The Jacksonville Observer
News Service of Florida
November 3, 2009

Opponents and supporters of the controversial offshore drilling proposal that is shaping up to be one of Legislature’s big fights next session have been talking about the plan at every turn lately – and influential lawmakers have been listening – but Monday the academic community dug into the hot topic in the effort to provide an “honest broker” in the debate.

The Florida State University Institute for Energy Systems, Economics and Sustainability hosted a symposium on offshore energy, focusing on oil and gas. It’s expected to be the first part of two such gatherings, with a January meeting scheduled to focus on alternative energy.

Panelists drawn from the oil and gas industry, state and federal regulatory agencies, and from public and private research programs discussed energy resources and development, the economics of the issue, environmental issues, and the technology of oil and gas drilling.

In a sharp contrast from the black and white certitude on both hardening sides of the drilling debate – supporters say drilling will immediately improve gas prices, opponents say it will hardly make a dent – the scholars gathered in Tallahassee sat comfortably in the murky gray area.

“There may be oil and gas, but it may be uneconomical in the present circumstances to produce it,” FSU oceanography professor Ian MacDonald told reporters after speaking on a panel titled “Technical and Environmental Challenges.” “There are always more unknowns than knows.”

But in news likely to be cheered by supporters of the proposal, which emerged late in the 2009 session and appears to be gathering steam in advance of 2010, several of researchers that joined MacDonald on the panel said there are reasons to believe drilling would be fruitful.

“All I know is that off the Panhandle, you have production on shore and you have discoveries seaward of state waters,” oceanographer Kenneth Schaudt told reporters. “I would assume… if you have it shoreward of the state waters and you have discovers seaward of state waters, they might be connected in between. That’s a normal assumption.”

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