There is no better time than winter to be thankful for our reliable, and robust, energy supply. Although we live in Florida, many of us still have to turn on the heat in our homes, and we have energy to thank for that amenity. We fill our gas tanks for holiday travel, charge our phones to call relatives with well wishes, and wash our clothes for the various holiday parties and events. All of these conveniences and more have been done with relatively low cost this year, thanks in large part to the production of energy in America. We are currently the top producer of oil and natural gas.
Many consumers, myself included, sometimes take energy industry’s innovations for granted. We neglect to consider what our lives would be like without it – a sad reality for those in other parts of the world. We also are not as educated on where this energy is actually coming from.
Floridians consume over 20 million gallons of gasoline every single day. Our population is growing, and that means our energy needs are, too. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, nearly 75 percent of our state’s electricity is generated from natural gas. That’s why it is crucial to continue to support new forms of natural gas and oil exploration and development.
The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (FSHCC) has always supported an “all of the above” energy approach, meaning we believe all forms of energy should be used so long as it can be done safely. We simply cannot afford to exclude any form of safe energy production, especially if we want to maintain robust energy supplies for consumers, add jobs and revenue to the economy, and keep our nation secure from volatile foreign nations.
This month, the FSHCC co-hosted a luncheon in Orlando to discuss energy policy. The event brought together Floridians from a wide variety of backgrounds, including veterans, small business owners, industry leaders and other members of the Hispanic community. Our conversations focused on offshore energy development and seismic testing in federal waters and what potential energy opportunities could mean for Florida.
Joining forces with a coalition called Explore Offshore, which is comprised of business and community leaders across the Southeast, we had an engaging and productive discussion about the realities of our energy and economic needs, and the solutions safe offshore energy exploration provides.
Offshore development is a proven way to extract energy from beneath the ocean floor, which is then processed and consumed. Before any potential drilling occurs, scientists conduct seismic surveys to determine if an opportunity for exploration exists in a certain area. This is done with rigorous permit requirements to help protect marine life. In fact, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has seen no evidence of harm to marine animal populations from seismic surveys, and this is a process that has been happening for more than 80 years – of course today with much better technology.
If potential energy resources are identified following seismic surveys, and an oil and natural gas production company is interested in investing the millions of dollars needed to drill an exploratory well, it jumpstarts another very extensive and rigorous permitting process that requires companies to adhere to many federal statutes and regulations from government agencies.
I love living in Florida and deeply care about our environment. FSHCC would never support any policy we felt could potentially threaten our beaches or marine animals. However, protecting the environment and protecting our energy supply are not mutually exclusive. We can and should use any safe method that will support our energy demands and boost our economy.
Speaking of the economy, offshore development provides economic benefits as well. Economic impact studies report offshore development could create 56,000 jobs in Florida and add up to $4.5 billion per year to our state economy. Many of those jobs are in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields and pay much higher than the national average – the average salary for someone working in the oil and natural gas industry is more than $100,000. Floridians deserve those opportunities.
That said, I am not saying that we should immediately start producing natural gas and oil everywhere. I simply think we should use all forms of energy to maintain a balanced energy supply. As long as resources are produced safely, I think it is an important part of the energy equation.
This is a topic with many conflicting views, and that is why education and conversation surrounding energy production, such as offshore exploration, are imperative. In order to have a rational and productive debate about this topic, it is important for us to have all the facts, and to be willing to listen to both sides. Our recent luncheon event was a great learning opportunity, and we look forward to hosting similar discussions across the state. I encourage Floridians to join us and be part of the conversation.
It is important we remain open to the opportunities that may exist for safe offshore exploration in federal waters as it is an essential part of keeping Florida’s future bright.
Julio Fuentes, President and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce