SARASOTA — New College of Florida Professor Frank Alcock could hardly believe it when he learned BP’s oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico had exploded April 20.
Just weeks earlier, the political science professor had released a report outlining the implications and risks of offshore drilling in Florida’s waters.
“I was as surprised as anybody that on April 20, in the irony of ironies, we had a blowout in a rig,” Alcock said. “I was quite disappointed to learn how bad it was.”
That 45-page report, published in February and titled “Potential Impacts of Oil and Gas Exploration in the Gulf of Mexico,” has become particularly relevant in light of the ongoing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
As a fellow with the Collins Center for Public Policy, Alcock published the report with Tom Arthur, director of the Collins Center News and Information Service, at the request of Florida Senate President Jeff Atwater.
Atwater wanted the Tallahassee-based nonpartisan organization to present policy-makers with the risks and benefits of offshore drilling so they could better weigh some decisions they faced on offshore drilling during the 2010 legislative session.
In the report, done in a question-and-answer format, Alcock and Arthur address 31 common questions related to offshore drilling that touch on issues such as state and federal regulations, oil and gas resources in Florida’s waters, economic benefits, environmental risks, permitting and emergency response.
The report states the following key issues and concerns regarding an oil spill in the Gulf:
n Oil released more than 100 miles off the West Coast of Florida would get caught in the loop current, which feeds into the Gulf Stream on the East Coast.
n A spill could pose some risk to Florida’s coastal communities depending on the ability to contain the spill or degrade the oil in a timely manner.
n Florida’s coastline is especially sensitive to spills because of its coral reefs and sea grass beds.
The report emphasized the rarity of oil spills in the United States.
“The volume of oil spilled in U.S. waters is a small fraction of 1 percent of the amount produced in those waters,” the report says.
Alcock said he never would have thought an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico would be as severe as the current leak. “Gulfwide, it’s frightening the volume of oil that we’re talking about,” Alcock said. “I think all bets are off and no question, there will be significant damage. I think the Gulf might be irreparably altered.”
Along with the Collins Center, Atwater called on Florida State University’s Institute for Energy Systems and Economic Sustainability and the Florida Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research to compile their own reports reviewing all sides of the debate of offshore drilling.
Atwater commissioned the three organizations in November 2009 to get started on the study so the reports could better educate policy-makers as they debated House Bill 563, an energy security bill that urged Congress to support lifting a ban on exploration and production of oil in federal waters surrounding Florida.
“Here we are at Day 72 of this spill and the information in this report is still very valuable,” said Tim Center, vice president of sustainability initiatives at the Collins Center. “When we collected all the facts, no matter what angle you came from you realized there are probably some risks there that the Legislature was not comfortable taking.
“They did not choose to lift the ban on permitting exploration in Florida waters,” he added. “We’re pleased that we provided a factual report that provided a lot of good information to help them explore the issue further.”