Royal Dutch Shell Group .com Rotating Header Image

Royal Dutch Shell Plc .com: The political tide is favoring Big Oil


On the same day that the U.S. House voted resoundingly to lift the 25-year ban on offshore oil and gas drilling, it also rejected a measure that would have boosted the minimum average gas mileage of American cars.

That’s all you need to know about U.S. energy policy and who drives it. Consumption is king; conservation, an afterthought.

Fourteen representatives from Florida supported the pro-drilling bill, which would allow oil and natural gas rigs 50 miles from the Atlantic coast and panhandle.

Polls show that most Floridians strongly oppose offshore drilling, but lawmakers who voted for the legislation insist it’s the best possible compromise.

A battle looms in the Senate, where Florida’s two senators — Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Mel Martinez — have vowed to block the bill unless tougher restrictions are added.

There’s no dispute that the political tide has turned in favor of Big Oil. High gasoline prices and the worsening bedlam in the Middle East have galvanized enemies of the moratorium that has kept derricks far away from Florida’s ecologically fragile shores.

The pot was sweetened when House leaders agreed to share a fat chunk of future gas and oil lease royalties with states that open areas between three and 100 miles offshore to energy exploration.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the royalty split could cost the federal government $102 billion during the next decade. Even the Bush White House, which is basically an arm of Big Oil, expressed dismay at the deal.

Once that kind of heavy money starts flowing into the moist, eager paws of local legislators, be assured that energy lobbyists will get whatever they want, whenever they want it.

Floridians fear a nightmarish spill like that of the Exxon Valdez, the tanker that lost nearly 11 million gallons of oil and fouled 1,300 miles of Alaskan coastline back in 1989. Such an accident would be devastating both to Florida’s marine environment and to tourism. Vacationers tend to avoid smelly, black beaches littered with dead, tar-covered sea birds.

The energy industry, and the politicians who pimp for it, say there’s no reason to worry. The technology of extracting and shipping fuel has improved, they say, and so has the safety record. Even if the platforms and tankers are better built, the infrastructure required to transport and store billions of gallons of oil is inherently vulnerable to acts of nature.

After hurricanes Katrina and Rita hammered the Gulf Coast last summer, authorities responded to at least 595 oil, gas and chemical spills in the region, according to a study by The Houston Chronicle.

The leaks came from offshore platforms, storage tanks along the coast and even fuel trucks that overturned in the storm surge and high winds. In all, an estimated 9 million gallons of oil was released, contaminating homes, farm soil, waterways and wetlands.

An estimated 1 million gallons leaked from a Shell Oil facility in Pilottown, La. An additional 1.4 million gallons spilled from a Murphy Oil plant near Chalmette. About 991,000 gallons poured from a Chevron terminal near Empire, on the Mississippi River.

The worst spill happened at Cox Bay in Plaquemines Parish, where 3.8 million gallons of sweet crude spewed from two storage tanks owned by Bass Enterprises Production Co. About 450,000 gallons slopped into nearby marshes.

Energy companies said they hadn’t anticipated — or prepared for — the vast spillage caused by the hurricanes. It was not a confidence-inspiring response.

Given Florida’s lively history of hurricanes, residents here deserve to know where all that oil being raised offshore will be stored and whether those facilities will be able to withstand a storm stronger than Katrina, a Category 3 when it made landfall.

Even if oil taken from Florida waters is transported directly to Louisiana or Mississippi, the risk of a catastrophic spill at sea can never be eliminated.

Exploration for natural gas, which is odorless and colorless, poses a lesser threat to waters and beaches. Yet even the feds admit that the drilling operation raises tons of sludge containing potentially harmful heavy metals.

Thanks to a last-ditch push by Florida representatives, the House bill that passed June 29 prohibits drilling closer than 200 miles from the west coast. The 50-mile buffer along the east coast and panhandle may be expanded to 100 miles by the Legislature, but it must be renewed every five years.

Some of the GOP lawmakers howling for offshore drilling have scoffed at the resistance in Florida.

They say the energy needs of America must come first, and that exploiting the Outer Continental Shelf will help free us from dependency on foreign oil.

What a crock. Offshore drilling will provide short-term boosts in supply, but little relief from our perilous reliance on oil producers in the Mideast, South America and the Eastern bloc.

Inevitably, rigs will go up somewhere off Florida’s coast, but only a dithering fool would believe that the price of gasoline will come down.

Those same folks who’ve been getting rich from Dick Cheney’s energy policy will get richer, while Floridians are left to hope and pray that these geniuses do a better job of protecting our waters than they did in Louisiana and Mississippi. The odds stink.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Readers can write to him at 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132. and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: