Phil Compton, regional representative of the Sierra Club, addresses a gathering of those opposed to offshore drilling Sept. 14 at Sand Key Park.
CLEARWATER - Three, six and 12 billion barrels are the various estimates of the oil reserves to be found off Florida’s Gulf coast; a mere drop in the bucket compared to the potential economic loss to Florida, say opponents of offshore drilling.
Opponents of offshore oil drilling in Florida’s gulf waters held a rally and news conference at Sand Key Park Sept. 14 to highlight the threat they see in attempts by oil businesses to open Florida’s gulf waters to drilling, and to count the numbers they envision.
“Millions of animals dead,” said Clearwater Aquarium Director David Yates.
“Our mission as everyone knows is to save marine life in a disaster. If an oil spill the size of the one now occurring off Australia’s shore were to occur here by the time we arrived at the scene most of the animals would already be dead; we’d be overwhelmed,” he said.
Yates was referring to the hypothetical scenario of an oil spill similar to the one which now threatens Australia and which organizers of the rally said is almost certain to happen here if gulf oil drilling is allowed.
Using a satellite photo map overlay of the Australian spill which began Aug. 21 and has now spread to cover an area 105 miles long by almost 100 miles wide, Sierra Club’s regional representative Phil Compton said that in a week such a spill 85 miles off Tampa Bay would have completely engulfed the shore line here.
“A disaster that would by now have completely destroyed our $6.5 billion coastal economy,” Compton said.
The potential for disaster is an issue which concerns not just environmentalists but business owners as well who rely on tourism. Sirata Beach Resort vice president Lenné Nicklaus-Ball said, “Big oil is funding this process under the table, paying people off, and if it passes you won’t be able to eat the seafood here. Tourism supports our community. If those dollars go away you’ll be paying state income tax in Florida for a long time to come.”
The message delivered by the rally’s organizers stressed the importance of understanding that the very equipment which is now spewing oil into the ocean along Australia’s shoreline is the same equipment being touted by the oil industry for use off Florida’s gulf coast. It’s called a Jackup Rig, a type of drilling platform that may be moved up and down on stationary legs set on the sea floor and it’s considered the most advanced and safest oil drilling equipment currently available.
“All those systems pretty much failed in this latest spill,” said DT Minich, executive director of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater.
“Remember the red tide in 2005,” Yates said. “It killed 100 sea turtles and went away, but an oil spill would be here to stay.”