Bill lets private companies drill for oil on public land

Feb 13, 2012

Lawmakers are looking into a measure that could help the state partner up with private companies to explore and drill for oil or natural gas on state lands. Regan McCarthy reports some say the state has plenty of oil; it just doesn’t have the money to look for it. 

Senator Greg Evers says there could be oil just waiting to be discovered under Florida’s forests and public lands, but he says the state needs a little help finding it.

“The state doesn’t have money to do exploration of oil and gas because it’s very expensive."

Evers, a Republican from Crestview, is bringing forward legislation that would let the state partner up with a private company to search for oil and then, if oil is found, would give the rights to develop the oil to that company. It’s a measure supported by groups like the Florida petroleum council. Petroleum Council Director David Mica says the change wouldn’t significantly differ from Florida’s current law.

“This enhances the possibility of a company who is investing that private capitol in the geophysical part to enter into a partnership with the state to go forward.”

Right now, companies that find oil don’t necessarily get to develop it. Instead, once oil is found, the state is required to have an open bid process, meaning a competitor could swoop in and take land right out from under the company that found the oil—leaving businesses with little incentive to invest in the cost of exploring. And Evers says that’s a problem for the state.

“The state has acquired the mineral rights from the Federal government for the land included in black water state forest and currently owns other acreage that might also have oil and gas resources which have not been found and developed. The state does not have the financial resources to explore these properties for these resources.”

But some, like Senator Thad Altman, a Republican from Melbourne, are raising concerns about what the measure’s potential environmental impact might be.

“Invariably there will be impacts on to the public lands where there’s seismic testing, which could have impacts on wildlife, the construction of roads, the actual foot print of the well, and it may be minimal and some cases could be more intrusive than others.”

Altman says since that’s the case, he suggests redirecting part of the revenue to the public lands. He says if it’s done right, it could even improve the properties.  But Evers says as the bill stands now, that would be a decision made by the cabinet during the negotiation period between the state and the private company before the exploration begins. Meanwhile, Senator Evelyn Lynn, a Republican from Daytona Beach, says she’s worried about the impact that this type of exploration might have on “recreational lands.”

So that it won’t impose on, you know, a child’s playground, and here’s the, you’ve got a big gas pipe and a drill with gas and oil lines going down. The kids would love that.”

Lynn also named spaces like camp grounds as state recreational lands that she says ought to be off-limits. Lynn proposed a last minute amendment to that affect, but withdrew it after Evers promised to work with her to get similar language written into the bill before it hits its next committee stop in the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation committee. Evers says the bill as it stands now would only allow explorations where they’re already allowed under current law.

“The lands that it would entail right now would just be state lands, state owned property that the state already has, the management plan that allows for oil and gas exploration. So we’re not changing anything.”

The measure passed out of its first committee stop – the Senate Communications and Public Utilities Committee—with a 10-to-4 vote.  A similar measure is moving through the House.