Boosting offshore drilling is about meeting tomorrow’s demand, not just today’s

Boosting offshore drilling is about meeting tomorrow’s demand, not just today’s
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Will Florida be included in the Department of Interior’s new offshore energy plan? You might get a different answer from the government depending on the day.

The more important question is, “should Florida want to be included?” The answer is yes. Now other states, like California, are seeking to be exempted and omitted from offshore drilling opportunities. No state should seek to limit its own opportunities.

The United States must be able to fully explore for offshore oil and gas, because no one can predict America’s energy needs or a state’s future economic needs. Although shale oil production in Texas and North Dakota provides great supplies of domestic oil today and the U.S. has become the world’s largest natural gas producer, we must think about meeting tomorrow’s demand, not just today’s.

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That means at least exploring every state so we know what is available. Moreover, no state knows what jobs or revenue it may need down the line, so no state should seek to be left out of such economic opportunities.

 

During the George W. Bush administration, the government rushed to implement new energy policies out of fear of a global undersupply of oil. Only seven years later there was an overabundance of domestic and foreign oil. Prices plummeted. Energy policies from the Bush and Obama administrations based on these misguided projections brought us ethanol mandates for gasoline and ill-advised loan guarantees for solar panel companies. These increased gasoline costs and loans proved wasteful.

Oil supply typically cycles between abundance and scarcity, but policymakers tend to overreact to drastic changes and craft long-term policies based only on the situation at the moment. The best decision is to leave options open. Despite our best efforts, we cannot predict our future needs — especially when it comes to energy. 

Here is what we do know. Oil provides more than 90 percent of the energy used for transportation nationally, and natural gas generates two-thirds of Florida’s electricity. Our energy security and our economic development are tied to the affordable, reliable supply of both of these fuels.

Florida’s economy is doing well today, and it may seem unnecessary to open a new industry off of the coast. However, this too can change. Today, Florida’s unemployment rate is below 4 percent and below the national average, but it would be foolish to forget that as recently as 2010 unemployment was higher than 10 percent and above the national average.

Offshore oil production creates jobs in the oil industry and in transportation, logistics, safety and auxiliary services. These high paying jobs bring cash to local economies. The Florida economy may very well need the jobs from an offshore industry in five, 10 or 15 years. So might California and any other state that seeks to excuse itself from offshore oil exploration.

If Florida or California or any other state is excluded from the new offshore plan, oil and gas companies and investors will develop resources elsewhere. Economies in other states will benefit. This is a punishment for excluded states, not an advantage.

The only responsible strategy is for the Trump administration — hopefully with the blessing of the state government — to open opportunities for energy exploration off of Florida’s coast. It is time we allow companies to collect data and explore the unknown with seismic surveying. This should be a compromise both sides of the aisle can support. Someday we will need the energy, jobs and revenue an offshore energy industry provides. We have to prepare for that today.

Ellen R. Wald, Ph.D., is a consultant on energy and geopolitics and teaches history and policy at Jacksonville University. Wald’s upcoming book “Saudi, Inc.: The Arabian Kingdom's Pursuit of Profit and Power” will be released in April 2018.