Friday, May 21, 2010

Florida Oil Spill - One Man's Warning

Florida Oil Spill, Indian SHores FL Lawyer
Florida Oil Disasters were on the mind of one local official. His call went unanswered. Councilman Bill Smith gave the following statement to the Florida Legislature and no one listened:

"Good afternoon to all of you. I am Bill Smith, and I am a member of the Town Council of the Town of Indian Shores, and a member of the Offshore Drilling Committee of the Barrier Islands Government Council, or BIG-C. The BIG-C is an organization of the mayors and elected officials of the 11 cities on the Barrier Islands on the Gulf of Mexico in Pinellas County. The 11 BIG-C members include my Town of Indian Shores and all the barrier island cities from St. Pete Beach in the south to the City of Clearwater in the north. I am here today to express the BIG-C’s opposition to Offshore Drilling in State waters. 

All 11 city members of the BIG-C have passed resolutions opposing Offshore Drilling, and the BIG-C recently adopted its own resolution. And I know my comments echo those of numerous other cities, counties and organizations who have passed similar resolutions, and many others with resolutions in the works. We have many concerns about Offshore Drilling in State waters--which by definition means drilling would be closer than just 10 miles from our beaches. Among our major concerns: 
 
1. The alleged economic benefits of Offshore Drilling fail to take into account the risks to the tourism industry that is the backbone of Florida’s economy. Drilling rigs, pipelines, storage facilities, vessel traffic and other infrastructure off the coast and on land are in direct visual, physical and environmental conflict with our world-class beaches. This is not about expanding an industry that would be located in some sparsely-populated inland area—we’re talking about heavy industry located smack in the middle of the natural resources that the world associates with the word “Florida”. 

2. Tourism is big business in Pinellas County and our State. Tourism expenditures in our County run $6.6 billion annually and 95% of Pinellas tourists say it’s our beaches that are one of their top attractions. The State tourism expenditures are ten times that. 

3. With drilling this close to our shore, there is no assurance that catastrophic damage to our coastline, our beaches, our plant and fish life can be avoided—whether that damage is from drilling mud with its mercury and other heavy metal contaminants, or—worse yet—from accidental spills whether during normal operation or during storms. How many tourists, who get tar balls on their feet, won’t be back? 

4. And speaking of spills, we’ve been watching the Timor spill off the coast of Australia, which began on August 21. The most recent news report I’ve seen, dated October 13 said it was still spewing an estimated 17,000 gallons of oil a day into the sea off the Australian coast. It’s 60 days later, so at that rate over a million gallons of oil has been spilled and is now spread over 10,000 square miles. Some estimates of the spillage are as high as 7 million gallons. And that’s 150 miles off the coast—not 5 or 10. Moreover, drilling proponents have described this technology as safe and state-of-the-art—and the same as would be used here.

5. We in Pinellas County are not strangers to spills. In 1993 a vessel collision at the mouth of Tampa Bay resulted in a 300,000 gallon spill that reached beaches as far away as 14 miles, resulted in a 45% drop in tourism and a $5 billion economic loss. Try to imagine what a 1 million—or 7 million—gallon spill would do. 

6. And it’s not just local spills that are a concern. There is the “Loop Current” in the Gulf of Mexico, which circulates within 125 miles of Florida. Pollution from rigs within the Loop Current would circulate south down the west coast, through the Straits and around the Keys, and up the East Coast carried by the Gulf Stream. 

7. Hurricanes are a fact of life in the Gulf of Mexico, and of course can cause spills. After Hurricanes Katrina & Rita the US Minerals Management Service reported 124 spills totaling almost ¾ of a million gallons, caused by hundreds of damaged pipelines, rigs and on-shore holding tanks. These rigs were far offshore--imagine what the impact would have been on rigs less than 10 miles from shore. 

8. On the west coast of Florida we enjoy some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. Crossing the Howard Frankland Bridge on the way to this meeting, the buildings of Tampa become visible as far away as 8 miles. Some of the drilling rigs located within 10 miles of the beach will be visible. What impact would that have on our tourism economy and the quality of life that attracts visitors and new residents to Florida?

9. The need for an on-going program of beach renourishment is another fact of life for maintaining the world-class status of our State’s beaches. Where there are oil rigs and especially the pipelines that support them, sources of sand needed for these renourishments are severely limited. Coastal engineering firms that work with us in Florida talk about what a nightmare it is to find sand sources in areas like Louisiana with its labyrinth of pipelines in the Gulf. 

10. Lastly, we’re being led to believe that offshore drilling in Florida waters is needed immediately to provide revenue to the State, to lower the price of gasoline, to eliminate America’s dependence on foreign oil—while what’s more likely is that it would be years before production would begin, possibly decades before the alleged production volumes would be achieved—and the end result would have an offsetting negative effect on tourism, as well as a negligible effect on both gas prices and our country’s dependence on foreign oil. 

I can’t resist sharing that I’m reminded of the dog in that Aesop Fable who, with a juicy piece of meat in his mouth, crosses on a log over a still water pond—looks down into the water, sees the image of another dog with what looks like an even juicer piece of meat in its mouth, opens his mouth to grab it and loses the meat he has. I imagine that dog’s piece of meat has “Tourism” written on it. Let’s not let go of our piece of meat for the image of a juicier one."

Councilman, Bill Smith
Indian Shores, Florida