Thursday, February 11, 2010
House panel hears about oil spills, beach sand
Members of a House panel Wednesday were provided with oil spill figures and they were told that seismic research is needed to find offshore deposits of beach sand before oil drilling is allowed.
The House Select Policy Council on Strategic & Economic Planning is holding hearings towards developing legislation to allow oil drilling in Florida waters, which extend 10.3 miles from the Gulf coast.
Coast Guard Capt. James Hanzalik said that about 230,000 gallons had been released since 1998 during about 5,000 spills from oil and gas platforms.
A spill must be reported for amounts as little as a teaspoon if it creates an oil sheen on the water's surface, Hanzalik said.
"I have to confess I've done that with suntan oil," replied Rep. Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda.
Thomas Campbell, president of Coastal Planning & Engineering, told the council that seismic research is needed to identify high-quality sand deposits before oil and gas rigs and pipelines are placed on the sea bottom.
He said developing data for 10 million acres of potential quality sand would cost about $20 million and could be completed in a year.
Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park and council chairman, said the testimony suggested that there are plans or measures in place to help drilling co-exist with other coastal uses.
"I'm hopeful the information we are hearing from folks today may be reassuring," he said.
But after the meeting Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, disputed the spill statistics by pointing out that one spill could involve thousands of gallons -- not just a teaspoonful.
"I think it actually shows how complex the issues are," Fitzgerald said. His district was the focus of Campbell's presentation on the search for quality beach sand for a restoration project on Anna Maria Island.
Gary Appelson, policy coordinator with the Caribbean Conservation Corp. in Gainesville, said spills will continue to happen and Florida is unique in having vast seagrass meadows, reef wrecks and mangrove trees along its coast.
"We have yet to hear anyone talk about how to mitigate for those unique Florida habitats," he said.
The Council is scheduled to hold another hearing Feb. 18 on drilling issues.
(Photo copyrighted by Mark Wallheiser. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission).