The Florida Senate's Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee will take up a study of the effects of offshore drilling, according to Senate President Jeff Atwater (R-Palm Beach).

"Offshore drilling is a complicated issue with significant ramifications for our state," Atwater said. "The citizens of Florida deserve a thoughtful and deliberative conversation free of rancor or hyperbole, and the Senate intends to provide a structure for that conversation within our body."

The senator said Florida State University's Institute for Energy Systems, Economics and Sustainability (IESES) and the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida have also initiated similar analyses, and they, in conjunction with the Office of Economic & Demographic Research (EDR), will be sharing information. The objective will be to develop "a comprehensive, balanced and unimpeachable analysis of the myriad issues encompassed by offshore drilling."

"These groups represent a wealth of knowledge, information and, above all, a commitment to identifying accurate information that is not skewed by personal or political opinion," Atwater said.

While IESES, the Century Commission and EDR may provide their initial findings prior to the 2010 legislative session, the analysis will not be driven by timelines or schedules, Atwater said. The senator has released an outline of the study's methodology.

A plan to allow offshore drilling that was approved by the state's House last April was quickly crushed in the Senate (see NGI, May 4). Gov. Charlie Crist was said to be concerned about the bill's timing and the fact that it would allow activity near the shore. The bill (HB 1219), sponsored by state Rep. Dean Cannon, would have permitted Crist and the Florida cabinet to consider and accept oil and gas exploration bids.

Drilling advocates, including the group Associated Industries of Florida, have said they will try again for drilling legislation in the next session. A survey completed about a year ago and touted by Associated Industries found that 73.2% of 600 Floridians polled favored drilling, either "anywhere," 32.7%; or "125 miles off the coast," 40.5%; while 23% opposed drilling and 3.8% did not have an opinion.

Last week the American Petroleum Institute complained to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that his agency is too slow to approve oil and gas activities, including those offshore, while it "fast-tracks" alternative energy projects (see related story).

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