Florida tourism group endorses offshore oil drilling


A Florida tourism group has endorsed an idea that politicians and environmentalists have been trying to prevent for decades: the exploration and production of oil and natural gas in the waters off Florida’s Gulf Coast.

State tourism officials long have opposed drilling off Florida’s shores, but the Florida Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus now says drilling will help preserve the state’s No. 1 industry.

“Changes in global energy markets have affected the price and supply of oil and natural gas and subsequently may have a future impact on Florida’s tourism industry,” the association said in a three-page position statement.

The association said it would support offshore drilling and production, but the operations must be at least 30 miles from the coastline.

Florida’s $65 billion-a-year tourism industry employs nearly 1 million people.

The association said a long-term energy policy that promotes conservation, efficiency, renewable fuels and increased oil and gas production “is essential to maintain a healthy, vital Florida tourism industry.”

No one knows for sure how much oil might be found off Florida’s Gulf Coast because federal regulators have prevented geologists from gauging the region’s resources with modern seismic technology.

The best estimate offered by the U.S. Minerals Management Service is 3.88 billion barrels of oil within 125 miles of Florida’s Gulf coastline — enough to meet U.S. demand for 176 days.

But that’s based on 1970s data. If the industry were allowed to explore the eastern Gulf, the new estimates would be significantly bigger, drilling proponents say.

In July, President Bush eliminated an executive order banning oil and gas drilling off U.S. coasts, a move designed to pressure Congress to undo its moratorium against offshore drilling.