Key GOP leader likes oil rigs out of sight

Republican House members today expressed support for the idea of requiring oil rigs to be located out of sight even while they are pumping oil from beneath state waters near the coast.

A representative of the National Ocean Industries Association told a House panel that oil and gas production platforms could be connected by pipelines to wells as far as 50 miles away.

The House Select Policy Council on Strategic & Economic Planning is holding a series of hearings on possible legislation to allow drilling in state waters. The House adopted a bill last year to allow drilling in Florida waters within three miles of the coast, but the Senate refused to consider the bill.

Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park and council chairman, said allowing drilling but requiring rigs to be out of sight in federal waters is an appealing idea. Cannon is slated to be House speaker in 2011.

“As a fifth generation Floridian, I think not having permanent structures visible from the coast is an important priority to me and I think is shared by a lot of people,” he said. “That is the kind of thing I would anticipate wanting to have in a final bill.”

Also during the meeting, Cannon said three council meetings will be scheduled for February to outline oil production and accident responses, competing coastal activities including military, tourism and fishing, and the economic impacts of oil and gas production.

Drilling supporters, including Associated Industries of Florida, say drilling will create jobs and reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. Opponents, including environmental groups and some coastal communities, say drilling threatens fishing and the state’s beach tourism.

The Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation also is studying the issue at the direction of Senate President Jeff Atwater, who did not give a deadline for when the research should be concluded.

(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do no copy or redistribute without permission.)