Bob Morrison is a retiree living in Tallahassee and an individual member of Consumer Energy Alliance-Florida. This Op-Ed appeared in The Tallahassee Democrat on August 25, 2008. In the 1960’s he worked as an engineer for North American Rockwell on the Apollo space program. He was a member of the Apollo 8 and 11 launch teams. Apollo 8 circled the moon. Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Contact him at minnfl@worldnet.att.net.

From 1965 to 1970 I was a systems engineer for the Apollo Space Craft Moon Project. In order to complete the project successfully, we had to get systems from different parts of the United States. For example, from Washington state and Alabama we obtained the boosters, from California we obtained the space craft, from Wisconsin we obtained the guidance system and from New England we obtained the Lunar landing Module. For a successful launch and moon mission all these systems had to be simultaneously functionally and operational.

I believe that a similar approach is the answer to our energy crisis. We have large reserve of oil in Alaska, large reserves in the Bekken Formation (in Montana and North Dakota), and off the shore of the Gulf of Mexico to mention just a few of the known sources. In addition to this we have other alternatives such as coal, natural gas, hydro, bio fuels, wind, solar, hydrogen and nuclear. I suggest that in order to solve our energy crisis, we also need to do a systems engineering approach and develop all of these resources/systems. Unlike the Apollo space moon project, which depended on all systems coming together and functioning simultaneously, the systems needed to solve our energy crisis can each come into play and operational at various times.

The alternative sources of energy are at mixed stages of development. The use of wind for electric energy is certainly not new. Windmills were used by ranchers and farmers in the Midwest during the 30’s and 40’s to provide electricity to their homes.

Fuel cells are also not a new source of energy. They provided the energy to power the Apollo Space modules that made the moon landing possible.

Bioenergy shows promise as just one more alternative option; however its largest drawback is the cost it takes to produce it. Technology is underway to improve that process.

Unfortunately these alternative forms are not going to be developed and widely implemented overnight. Whether it is in our best interest or not, the truth remains that at present we are an oil dependent nation. We need a shorter term solution while also working on longer term solutions.

Off the southern coast of Panama City, FL. exists a large natural gas reserve called the Destin Dome. Because much of the needed research for this area has already been done, harvesting of this natural gas could begin within a year or two of the politicians giving the OK.

The governor of Alaska herself is an advocate of both off shore and interior drilling within her state. (She also has an 84% approval rating). In addition to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, huge sources of crude oil exist in such areas as the Chukchi Sea and the Beaufort Sea. These areas could be accessed even sooner than ANWR if Congress would give permission.

A major complaint of offshore oil drilling has been the safety of the environment. After the “drilling blowout” in California’s Santa Barbara channel in 1969, the drilling industry began to look closely at its emergency shut-off technology. The result was much improved sub-surface safety valves, which were instrumental in preventing spills during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

While doing ground checkout of an Apollo Space Craft, there was a fire that resulted in the loss of three astronauts. That didn’t stop the Apollo Space Craft and new checkout procedures were implemented. There were no further accidents or loss of astronauts, but there were successful moon landings and walks. The same could be true about off shore drilling. Let’s move on as we did with the Apollo Project and make the US energy secure in both the near and the far future.

Alaska has a budget surplus much of which can be attributed to the revenue it receives from oil leases and royalties. Florida is in a budget crunch but opted out of off shore lease sales in the Gulf that brought in revenues of over 2.4 billion of which 37.5% of this was this was directed back into the participating States.

Alaska has legislation mandating that 50% of Lease and Royalties revenues go towards development of “green” energies.

Florida promising to reduce energy costs but not allowing drilling is like promising hungry people food but never tilling the fertile soil that resides in one’s domain.

I believe that it’s time for Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, Alex Sink and many members of the Florida Congressional Delegation to reevaluate their positions towards off shore drilling and look at the economic benefits and jobs that would be gained. Florida stands to be hurt far more by tourists staying closer to home because of high gas prices than by the establishment of oil drilling which has had a near spotless record for the last thirty plus years.

I think that they would find Senator Nelson’s statement that drilling is “sheer stupidity” is off base and not in the best interest of Florida or a Systems Engineering objective for the Nation to become energy secure.