Barney T. Bishop III is president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida, known as “The Voice of Florida Business Since 1920″ and can be reached at bbishop@aif.com. Associated Industries of Florida is an affiliate member of Consumer Energy Alliance-Florida. This Op-Ed ran in several Florida papers during July 2009.

With an issue as contentious as oil and natural gas exploration, it is often hard to separate rhetoric from truth. Although presented as “facts” surrounding offshore drilling, the July 5th column from Dr. Enid Sisskin blurs the realities of today’s oil exploration technologies and energy policy. Scare tactics and outrageous claims will not fix our nation’s energy crisis.

Dr. Sisskin walks readers through four “myths” and their “realities” including the technological achievements of the oil exploration industry, environmental risks, the extent of America’s natural resources and how all these issues affect Americans at the pump. Upon reviewing these “realities,” it seems the facts have not been fairly represented.  I felt it was important to present your readers with more accurate information.

The truth is oil exploration has significantly evolved over the years and continues to become more environmentally sensitive. The technology is safer and environmental risks have been considerably decreased, which is why many nations such as the ecological-friendly Australia have incorporated offshore exploration for oil and natural gas as part of their energy policy. Impeding U.S. production will only cause us to fall further behind the exploration-curve in comparison to other countries.

Additionally, claims that oil companies are sitting on unused oil drilling permits are a red herring. This claim has been dismissed time and again by credible sources including the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Washington Post and leading government officials. America’s natural resources remain comparatively off-limits with an estimated 86 billion barrels of oil that are unattainable due to federal restrictions on offshore exploration. Increased energy production, including offshore exploration, has to be a part of a redeeming energy future.

Gas prices are not the sole reason domestic exploration is vital to our nation’s future. However, choosing to argue against expanded energy production simply because of the amount of oil Americans consume directly counteracts the basic elements of economics. Increased supply drives down costs and much more than just pennies as Dr. Sisskin suggests. After lifting the ban on offshore drilling last year, gas prices plummeted.

Critics such as Dr. Sisskin and Sen. Bill Nelson must learn to see past their unwavering resistance to domestic exploration of oil and natural gas and wake up to today’s realities.  We need oil and natural gas to maintain our way of life, and natural gas production is already underway today in the Gulf of Mexico south of the Florida Panhandle coast.  Further, a majority of Floridians support offshore drilling.

Increased exploration will help drive down market costs while creating American jobs and reducing our dependence on foreign energy supplies. There is great opportunity here in Florida – for our state and our nation. Let’s not squander a chance to boost our state’s economy and move our nation toward energy independence.