Seminar Speakers Explain the Effects of Expanded Oil and Gas Lease Areas in the Gulf of Mexico

Seminar Speakers Explain the Effects of Expanded Oil and Gas Lease Areas in the Gulf of Mexico

The environmental impacts of more oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico prompted a range of opinions at a seminar Saturday.

The Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006, approved by Congress last month, opens about 543,000 acres in the eastern gulf to drilling leases within the year. Some lease areas are as close as 125 from Florida’s coast.

“But that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen overnight,” Gary Goeke of the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, told a small crowd at the session hosted by the League of Women Voters of Okaloosa County. “We take our job very seriously.”

It will take a year to write the environmental impact statement (EIS) necessary for the lease sale, and several more years for the Minerals Management Service to approve production plans before drilling can begin, said Goeke.

As part of the EIS process, the agency will host two sessions next month in Pensacola to hear public comments on the leases.

“It will be 10 years before any oil is brought to shore for use,” Goeke said.

That will not lessen the environmental dangers, warned Enid Sisskin, director of Gulf Coast Environmental Defense in Gulf Breeze.

“The Gulf of Mexico is severely environmentally distressed and its water quality is deteriorating,” she said. “And burying pipe lines would more than likely impact the structure of the sea floor.”

There’s no possible way to determine the long-term effects of an oil rig located about 125 miles off Florida’s beaches, Sisskin added.

A natural gas or oil spill can cause residual impacts to the water that last up to two years after the spill, she said.

“There are occasionally upsets,” agreed Goeke.

But not every oil spill is massive. It can be anything from a cup to a barrel or thousands of barrels, he said.

However, hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed 113 oil and natural gas platforms in the gulf, and caused a reported six spills of about 1,000 barrels of oil each, Sisskin noted.

There are an estimated 4,000 drilling platforms in the gulf and some 33,000 miles of pipeline that carry about 30 percent of the oil and 21 percent of the natural gas produced in the United Sates, said Goeke.

“The Gulf of Mexico is our single main supplier of domestic production,” he said.

Eglin Air Force Base’s 46th Test Wing, which operates the base’s land and water test ranges, signed off on the Energy Security Act. The wing concluded that Eglin can operate its test missions safely as long as no oil or natural gas platforms are placed over the Military Mission Line, which runs south into the gulf from Hurlburt Field’s runway.

Eglin’s missions are expected to increase, said base representative Howard Bush.

“But this law will have little impact on our mission,” he said. “Our mission is preserved with our negotiation with MMS and we can live with their program.”

Copyright (c) 2007, Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach

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Source: Northwest Florida Daily News

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