Gulf Oil Spill Community Forum Discusses Long-Term Impacts listen06/16/10 Allie Wilkinson
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More than 900 people crowded into the Palladium Theater last night to hear scientists, politicians, media experts and industry leaders discuss Americaâ€™s largest, ongoing environmental disaster. WMNFâ€™s Allie Wilkinson reports from St. Petersburg.
Nearly two months to the day since oil started seeping into the Gulf of Mexico the Tampa Bay community came together to discuss the long term implications and solutions relating to the spill. Chuanmin Hu, an Associate Professor at the College of Marine Science at USF said the west coast of Florida is not under immediate threat. But, Hu said, that could all change as the summer season progresses and the Gulf of Mexico warms, making hurricanes more likely.
â€œItâ€™s safe for the short term, for the coming weeks. For the coming months, if we have a major hurricane, our situation will be much worse. So safe for the short term, but not for the long run.â€
The concerns about the long-term impacts of the oil spill reach far beyond the hurricane season. William Hogarth, Dean of the College of Marine Science at USF, said little is known about the impact of oil and dispersants on the marine food web, which could last a decade or more.
â€œWe are extremely concerned about the future and whatâ€™s going on in the water column as far as the food chain is concerned and how this could relate and turn into problems with our fishery populations.â€
According to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, the amount of chemical dispersants used so far is approaching a world record. These dispersants break up the oil. Rob Lorei, news director at WMNF, said scientists worry about the toxic effect that it will have on marine life.
â€œHow come our government, how come BP, is not using non-toxic ways to clean up this mess? I really want to know why BP continues to be allowed to spray this very controversial material at will on the oil leak.â€
Fears about the long-term impacts werenâ€™t just related to the environmental and health effects but also the impact that the spill will have on Floridaâ€™s economy. Particularly on tourism, a 6 billion dollar industry in Pinellas County alone. Industry officials are already seeing 20 to 30 percent declines in business. DT Minich, executive director of Visit St. Petersburg and Clearwater, said BP should be held fully responsible.
â€œThere were 7 billion dollars worth of claims for liability with Valdez. Once the media kind of went away, they started litigation. It took 17 years for those claims to be paid. And by the time they got done, the 7 billion was down to 500 million, is what Exxon actually paid out of the pocket. We cannot have that to our economy, to the State of Floridaâ€™s economy.â€
The costly burden that oil had on the Gulf economy came far before the Deepwater Horizon spill, said David Friedman, research director at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
â€œRight now we use nearly 20 million barrels of oil every single day. Over the next 20 years we are going to be sending on average about 1 billion dollars every single day to other countries, just to import oil. This year alone we are going to spend over 300 billion dollars just to buy gasoline, forget diesel, forget jet fuel, forget home heating oil. Just gasoline we are going to be spending over 300 billion dollars this year. That is a huge burden on our economy.â€
The cure to Americaâ€™s oil addiction is to turn to alternative energies and conservation but the fact is that transition will take time said David Pettit, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
â€œYou have to come to the table with solutions and thatâ€™s what we try to do and what David and the others are talking about. Itâ€™s unrealistic to tell the oil industry that you need to stop all drilling in the Gulf forever after. Thatâ€™s not going to happen and I think we need to confront that. Someday weâ€™ll have a clean energy economy and weâ€™ll get off fossil fuels. Itâ€™s not going to happen in the next 10 years and there is going to be drilling in the Gulf. What we need to look at in that narrow perspective is how to make that as safe as possible so that these kind of spills like the Deepwater Horizon donâ€™t happen again and if god forbid one does, we know how to clean it up.â€
Comparisons were made all night between this disaster, and events like Hurricane Katrina and the Exxon Valdez spill. But geophysical engineer Dan Berard said the example that people can learn from is how Saudi Arabia dealt with the oil spill in the Persian Gulf nearly twenty years ago.
â€œThey had a spill of 10 million barrels. Thatâ€™s huge. Thatâ€™s 10 times what weâ€™ve seen. They cleaned it up in 6 months. Now, they cleaned it up in 6 months because they assigned a senior VP, a petroleum engineer, and there was no holds barred, no money spared, no people spared. They flat got after it.â€
As the disaster continues, residents at the forum asked for politicians to hold BP responsible and make sure that a full and speedy recovery occurs.