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Wednesday, Oct 29, 2014
Editorials

Editorial: Keep oil away from Florida coast

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An oil spill along the Texas coast last weekend wasn’t of the magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe or the Exxon Valdez disaster, but it should be enough to remind Florida lawmakers that our shoreline and tourism industry shouldn’t be jeopardized for the illusionary promise of quick oil riches.

We’re not aware of any movement in Tallahassee or Washington, D.C., to lessen laws and regulations that protect Florida from near-shore oil-drilling at the present. But that doesn’t mean that a few naive lawmakers aren’t being courted by oil-industry lobbyists right now, or cooking up an insane scheme themselves to allow drilling within sight of our gorgeous beaches.

It’s happened before, and it’ll undoubtedly happen again. But common sense has always prevailed, with members of both parties working to ensure that drilling remains a safe distance from our coast.

The incident last Saturday in Galveston Bay — which occurred two days before the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spilling 10.8 million gallons of oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound, causing colossal environmental damage — should give smart lawmakers cause to fight any attempts to gamble with Florida’s coast.

The spill of up to 168,000 gallons of fuel oil near Texas City occurred when a barge carrying 924,000 gallons of the substance collided with a ship. Oil has been detected at least 12 miles into the Gulf of Mexico.

Officials are concerned about the long-term effects in the area, which is home to a multi-billion-dollar commercial fishing and recreational industry, as well as to dozens of species of birds. The channel, part of the Port of Houston, contains critical shorebird habitat along both sides.

The spill’s consequences are frightening because it is not the type oil that poisoned the gulf during the Deepwater Horizon fiasco. It’s worse, according to some experts.

The barge was carrying “a black, molasses-like ‘bunker’ oil used in ships called RMG 380,” according to Newsweek, which described it as “the heavier material that remains after the more valuable fuel components of crude oil have been removed in a refinery.”

“Due to its high density,” Newsweek reported, “bunker oil is highly persistent: Much of the oil may sink, remaining in the bay for anywhere from several months to several years.”

We still don’t know the full effects of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which poured more than 200 million gallons of crude oil into the gulf in 2010 and cost 11 workers their lives. But every week, it seems, we’re learning of more damage and harmful consequences.

Earlier this week, for instance, a new study led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was released. It revealed that young bluefin tuna and amberjack exposed to oil skimmed after the explosion are suffering from abnormalities.

These include heart defects that officials say likely will hamper their ability to catch food in the open water, putting their survival at risk.

Now, people are trying to determine the extent of another spill — this time in Texas, which doesn’t have the pristine beaches or the dependency on the tourism industry that Florida has.

Offshore drilling is necessary for our energy supply, but it makes no sense to allow it dangerously close to our coast.

Surely, no Florida lawmaker in his or her right mind would even consider inviting the oil industry to set up shop in our near-shore waters.

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