Sen Bill Nelson visits oil spill incident command post in St Pete
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05/07/10 Seán Kinane
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Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) speaks about the BP oil blowout in St. Pete.


photo by Seán Kinane/WMNF

In order to respond to effects on the West Coast of Florida from the BP oil blowout, federal, state and local agencies have established an incident command post in St. Petersburg. Representatives from BP, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the U.S. Coast Guard, are among the groups stationed at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute on the campus of University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science.

Today, Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson was there.

The big, four-story dome that has been constructed to be sent down five thousand feet from the surface has now been lowered in the water, and then the question is hitting a target five thousand feet below the surface; getting the oil that's gushing up out of the well-head, getting it contained in that, and coming through a pipe.

Nelson called BP’s lowering of a containment box over the blowout a “dicey operation.”

As this oil is gushing up, it doesn't just gush up oil. Coming up that pipe, it'll gush up oil, and then it'll gush natural gas, and then it'll gush sea water, and all along it's got sand in there, and the sand can start acting as sandpaper. And all of that gets up to the surface ship. How do they separate all of that, and contain it? So there is a dicey operation that is going on, and we hope and we pray that it works.

But what if it doesn’t work?

Then we are looking at, according to the CEO, three months to complete two relief wells — drilled at an angle, drilled from the ocean bottom thirteen thousand feet down to where the oil was, and then to suck that oil up that relief well and another one, to keep the pressure then down the oil coming up the well-head.

The University of Miami’s Hans Graber has said some oil is already caught in the Gulf Loop Current, which flows from the Gulf past the Florida Keys. But not all oceanographers are convinced the Loop Current has hit the oil slick, and Nelson warns about that possibility.

Of course a great deal of concern for Floridians is that if it gets in the Loop Current and comes around here, where eighty-five percent of the live coral reefs of North America are, that's a concern, and where the Gulf Stream is literally right off of shore in Southeast Florida — where there is a substantial economic interest of tourism as well as environmentally.

Recent investigations have found that the Minerals Management Service has given BP categorical exclusion from environmental review of its exploratory wells, but Nelson says more oversight is needed.

I have asked the White House to suspend its planning for its 2012 five-year plan for drilling on the outer continental shift in areas that it is not all — that the oil industry is not already drilling. And just last night, the White House announced that they are suspending the public hearings and the meetings, with regard to the five-year plan which starts in 2012.

Nelson would not go as far as saying there should be a ban on wells as deep as one mile.

The answer to that is no. What I have proposed, and have filed legislation, is to take away the appropriation that would allow any exploratory wells to be drilled until the investigation is complete. Not to cut off exploration, but to cut off exploration now until the investigation is complete and we know the safety. But in essence, I think the Administration is going to be doing that anyway, as the secretary of the Interior has already been going through and doing a systematic inspection of each of the rigs.

A University of South Florida College of Marine Sciences biological oceanographer, Frank Muller-Karger, asked Senator Nelson whether funding would be restored for basic oceanographic research and monitoring.

There's no current near, you said. There's very, very few buoys that measure wind, so everything we have to feed numerical simulations, like models that forecast where the water may move — or even less what kind of an impact it may have on biological communities — is based on what little bit that we know and we can infer from other studies someplace else, or the studies that have been done historically in this area. But there is nothing that is really focused on really understanding the resources, the physics, biology, chemistry, geology, of the West Florida Shelf.

Because of the continuing leak, NOAA has extended a closed fishing area in the Gulf until May 17. The closed area now represents almost 4.5 percent of the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

More WMNF coverage of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill:

BP's track record on safety and are the chemical dispersants harmful to the environment?

Coast Guard holds secret meeting with environmental groups

Seabird sanctuary prepares for oil slick disaster in Tampa Bay

Castor says BP thinks oil leak could be up to 60 thousand barrels per day

Behind “Drill, Baby, Drill”

Officials give rosy view on oil spill recovery efforts

Sen Bill Nelson wants pause in exploration until cause of oil spill determined More WMNF coverage of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill:

BP's track record on safety and are the chemical dispersants harmful to the environment?

Coast Guard holds secret meeting with environmental groups

Seabird sanctuary prepares for oil slick disaster in Tampa Bay

Castor says BP thinks oil leak could be up to 60 thousand barrels per day

Behind “Drill, Baby, Drill”

Officials give rosy view on oil spill recovery efforts

Sen Bill Nelson wants pause in exploration until cause of oil spill determined

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