In recent weeks, Florida has created quite a bit of political news as it relates to energy production, with members of Congress filing legislation both to encourage and discourage Florida as a contributor to our nation’s energy portfolio through offshore energy production.
Understandably, politicians are protective of our beautiful beaches to where tourists flock from around the world, and the great military presence in our state where men and women train to protect our country. Everyone will agree these are important priorities and economic drivers that should be protected.
But getting lost in this argument is seismic testing, a technology that should be deployed so policymakers can know whether all the political ruckus is really worthwhile. Seismic testing isn’t drilling. It is a technology that sends pulses of sound to the ocean bottom and brings back up data that can provide a 3-D view of where oil and gas resources are found.
It is a highly regulated process that requires many steps of approval and oversight before actually occurring. It has been authorized by the Obama administration down the Atlantic Coast to Central Florida.
An often-cited talking point by opponents is that seismic testing is going to be harmful to marine life. The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has had to set the record straight, publishing a March document that rebuffs environmentalists’ misrepresentations that animals would be killed through seismic testing and reproduction would be affected: “To date, there has been no documented scientific evidence of noise from air guns used in geological and geophysical seismic activities adversely affecting animal populations.”
BOEM studies show no impact to sustainability of dolphins, who are observed in the Gulf of Mexico, where seismic testing is common. Regulators are on the boat with seismic engineers, monitoring for marine life and shutting down activity if animals are close to entering the area.
But marine life is really just a buffer argument for the main fight against the oil and gas industry, which is highly political. Environmentalists -- who, mind you, love their fuel-burning vehicles and air-conditioned strolls through the store -- really don’t like climate change. And that’s what this fight is about. Those opposed to seismic testing ultimately don’t want the oil and gas industry to operate.
But what alternative plan do opponents offer? I don’t see many vehicles with solar panels strapped to the hood or wind turbines on the doors. The bottom line is that while new technologies are emerging to diversify our energy portfolio, we are still an oil-based economy.
We should all agree that smart energy answers should be developed, but until they become economically feasible, we must make smart policy decisions with the most accurate information we have. Seismic testing gets us that more accurate information.
The head-in-the-sand approach to seismic testing really doesn’t make sense. Floridians should know what resources are there before deciding any next steps. And as a Floridian who loves the outdoors, I would much rather have this knowledge without the use of exploratory wells.
Ultimately, oil and natural gas are critical to our economy. Production in recent years has helped improve our economy and position the United States as a global energy producer. But we’re still relying on foreign and often unfriendly oil, our economy is deeply affected by OPEC and that can have serious national security implications. Cutting down on foreign oil dependence should be a priority for our country.
As is often the case, the loudest voices get the most attention. But, Floridians overall support offshore energy production. A January Harris poll of 610 Florida voters found nearly two-thirds of respondents support offshore energy production.
Seismic testing is a step that needs to be taken whether or not Florida joins the country in helping attain energy independence. Even if that doesn’t happen, our policymakers need to have the information to make an informed decision.
Barney Bishop III, one of the most familiar faces within the state business community, is CEO of Barney Bishop Consulting LLC in Tallahassee.