Scientists, officials say the Gulf of Mexico still in trouble three years after BP oil disaster
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04/19/13 Janelle Irwin
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Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced Friday she will sue BP on Saturday, the three-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

During a press conference on downtown St. Pete’s waterfront Friday before Bondi's announcement, elected officials and environmental groups said there’s still a lot of recovering to do.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson wants to make sure BP is held accountable for the 2010 oil disaster by making sure the fine assessed is the most it can be.

“But right now, BP is still fighting in court. They are fighting the assessment of a fine under the oil pollution act that will assess a fine per barrel of oil spilled and when you have five million barrels of oil spilled, that can be a fine all the way up to $22 billion.”

For the third year in a row, the Florida Democrat is proposing legislation that would toughen the penalties for companies responsible for oil spills.

“To increase the liability limits for negligence as opposed to gross negligence from $75 million which is the present liability limit, up unlimited. In the oil spill liability trust fund which is there for a party that’s either gone bankrupt or that cannot be found – to lift that limit from a billion dollars.”

But Nelson is worried deep pocketed lobbyists in Washington will block his effort.

“Well I’m clearly concerned that the oil lobby is going try to lockdown and prevent us from passing the legislation and thus far they have been successful as we’ve had this legislation for the last two years. But, that’s where if you don’t succeed at first, you try, try again and we will succeed.”

It’s been years since the last tar balls washed on shore in the panhandle and other north Florida Gulf coast spots. And Tourism has long been back to normal. But researcher Robert Hueter said there are still pressing concerns off the coast.

“Keep in mind please, that it took four years for some of the ecological effects of the Exxon-Valdese spill to show up and more than a decade to really begin understanding the full range of that spill’s environmental effects.”

Hueter is the director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota. He said the studies he’s conducted on sharks and some other large fish showed surprisingly few effects.

“On the other hand, work by other scientists or other colleagues showed some more serious oil effects in the coastal fishes of the northeastern gulf and bottom-dwelling, deep sea animals … Now these animals can’t move as much, or don’t move as much as these highly migratory, very large, offshore fishes. So, the difference could be explained by the ability of such things as open-ocean sharks, tunas and billfish to move rapidly away from the spreading oil and thus, minimize their exposure.”

One of those colleagues is Steven Murawski, a research professor in the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science. Murawski said there may not have been immediate effects in some areas, but the remaining oil in the Gulf could pose a problem for years to come.

“Oil, in fact the exact oil that came from the Deepwater Horizon blowout, outright kills the larvae – the next generation of two different species of reef corals and affects their ability to settle and form new coral colonies and oil mixed with dispersant is even worse in its negative effects of coral reproduction survival.”

Member of Congress Kathy Castor has been a vocal proponent of tapping into recovery dollars in the Tampa Bay area she represents. She said Congress needs to ensure adequate dollars are being allocated for research.

“This is our once in a lifetime opportunity to restore the Gulf of Mexico not just better than it was before the blow out, but to restore the Gulf of Mexico to its full potential.”

Castor added an evaluation of the oil spill recovery gave Congress a D.

“And I think that’s very generous because they have not responded to the recommendations in the oil spill commission report.”

She said the only reason that grade wasn’t an F was because Congress did pass the RESTORE Act which allocates money from BP to the five Gulf states affected by the spill. A great deal of that money goes to restoration.




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