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Do Offshore Drilling And Tourism Mix?

Gulf oil spill most likely to kill tourist season

Carl Hiaasen  May 03, 2010


That's the official position of British Petroleum.

It turns out that oil is gushing from that blown-out rig off the Louisiana coast at a flow of at least 5,000 barrels a day, five times more than BP first estimated.

Oh, and if you're keeping count, by Friday there were three leaks - not two - in the mile-long pipe that connected the platform to the wellhead.

The slick is larger than Rhode Island, and a shift of wind is pushing it into the wetlands of bayou country, imperiling birds, marine life and commercial fishing. Tourist beaches in Alabama and northwest Florida are also at risk.

Barely a month ago, President Obama announced plans to expand offshore oil operations in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast as far south as central Florida.

Fabulous idea!

It won't bring down the price of gasoline one penny at the pump, and it won't yield enough crude oil to light up America for even a year -- but, hey, what harm could it do?


The oil companies know how to find oil, and they sure know how to drill. The only part of the underwater operation that they haven't really nailed down is how to clean up their spills.

Soon after the Deepwater Horizon rig caught fire and sank, killing 11 workers, BP sent remote-controlled submarines to shut a master valve near the source of the outflow. It didn't work.

Plan B is to dig a relief well in the hopes of intercepting the oil before it reaches the fractured pipe. Plan C is to plug up the spewing hole with mud, concrete or a heavy liquid.

At a depth of 5,000 feet, either project will take weeks or months, during which time the oil would continue leaking.

Meanwhile, as this column is being written, BP is lighting parts of the Gulf of Mexico on fire, to burn off some of the slick. So much for high-tech.

The company is also assembling an extremely large dome -- I swear -- that engineers could lower to the ocean floor and place over the leak in an attempt to capture the oil.

Maybe when they're done, they can give it to Wile E. Coyote so he can use it to trap the roadrunner.

BP says everything possible is being done to stop the leak and contain the spill. That's probably true, which is sobering.

Despite all the assurances from Big Oil and the politicians who are in its pocket, the technology of undersea drilling is dangerously lagging when it comes to protecting the coastal communities whose economies depend on clean water, clean beaches and healthy fisheries.

Last week, BP's chief executive, Tony Hayward, tried to ease the fears of Gulf residents by saying that the approaching layer of oil was as light as ``iced tea.''

Good luck trying to sell that line: ``Hey, folks, that brown stuff all over the beach? Don't think of it as tar. Think of it as Snapple.''

On Friday, with the spill blooming into a disaster, the White House announced that no new offshore drilling will be authorized until the Louisiana incident is fully investigated.

Under the plan announced in March by Obama, drilling in Florida's eastern Gulf would expand, but remain at least 125 miles offshore. On the Atlantic side, rigs could be erected within sight of the coast.

In Tallahassee, where Big Oil's lobbyists have been spreading gobs of money, several geniuses in the Legislature will next year continue their push to permit drilling within five miles of some prime Florida beaches.

Perfectly safe, they say. Ya'll just relax.

Two days after exploding, the Deepwater Horizon went down on April 22 about 50 miles from mainland Louisiana. It took only a week after that for the first streaks of oil to reach the shore.

Miles of protective booms have been laid along the marshes. Officials are considering cannon fire to scare away birds, so they don't land in the goo. Another idea is to recruit local shrimp boats as oil skimmers.

Because BP hasn't been able to cap the leak, the Obama administration is sending U.S. military assistance. In other words, the Louisiana spill is an official emergency.

If it had happened near Jacksonville or Daytona Beach, Naples, Sarasota, Key West . . .


By all means, let's surround Florida -- a virtual hurricane magnet -- with drill rigs. According to the U.S. Minerals Management Service, hurricanes Rita and Katrina destroyed 113 gulf platforms, damaged 457 pipelines and caused 146 spills that dumped 17,652 barrels of petroleum.

One medium-sized blowout could trash miles of shoreline and kill a tourist season. Nothing sells seaside hotel rooms like YouTube videos of gunk-covered turtles and dead pelicans.

This is a no-brainer. Florida can't afford offshore drilling. The risk to the economy is ludicrous, compared to the relatively small amounts of oil to be found.

With the crud from the Louisiana accident slopping ashore, Obama should fly down to experience the scene first-hand. I'm sure someone will help scrape the ``iced tea'' off his flip-flops.

Gulf oil spill most likely to kill tourist season
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