Oil spill update | Facts, figures — and perspective
A year after the Deepwater Horizon well gushed 5 million barrels of oil — more than 200 million gallons — into the Gulf of Mexico, the beaches of northwest Florida are again pristine, tourism business has returned, and BP has paid out more than $2 billion in Florida damage claims. But the spill's aftermath still includes plenty of loose ends, starting with unsettled claims and extending to the lack of a full understanding of the spill's environmental impact, which may take years to assess. Here's an update.
One year later: the tourism picture
Tourist development council directors along the Panhandle coast are reporting encouraging statistics this year during the peak summer season.
Escambia County: Bed tax returns for October through May are up 12 percent from their best year ever, 2006.
Santa Rosa County: May bed tax numbers are up 25 percent from a year ago, 12.3 percent from 2009.
Okaloosa County: Numbers in April and May surpassed those same months in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Walton County: May's bed tax gain over a year ago was 15 percent.
Bay County: Bed tax revenue in May was up 4.46 percent from a year earlier.
"The oil spill discussion is over. Everybody knows the beaches are clean," says Marty McDaniel, who runs Oaseas Resorts, a company managing 3,000 condominium units in Bay and Walton counties. His sales are up 45 percent from a year ago, and bookings for June and July put occupancy over 90 percent. For McDaniel and many other businesses along the coast, however, here's the rub: "The additional traffic is not going to make up for losses of last year — we figured losses at $2 million. That's a big pill to swallow.'' Oaseas is still in negotiations with BP over a final resolution of its claim.
What about the Tampa Bay area?
Pinellas County: Bed tax revenues for May were $2.22 million, up 13.6 percent from a year earlier.
Money spilled far from the direct hit
The largest category of BP payments in Florida, at $2 billion, has been to individuals and businesses affected economically by the oil spill. The distribution of the payments reflects the fact that while 98 percent of the oil and residue that flowed onto Florida beaches from the accident landed on the shores of Escambia County, the economic impact spilled all along the gulf, most heavily on the counties of northwest Florida but extending all the way to Collier and Lee counties, where tourism-related businesses suffered from travelers' fears about possible contamination. "Perception is the biggest challenge," said Craig Savage, director of media relations and communications for the Florida BP Gulf Coast Restoration Organization. BP has made payments through the Gulf Coast Claims Facility.
Environmental impact — jury's still out
It could take 20 years to learn whether Florida's gulf waters and the life they nurture have recovered completely from the disaster, said Ross Ellington, associate vice president of research at Florida State University and chairman of the Florida Oil Spill Academic Task Force. What we need to know is whether any damage inflicted at the base of the gulf food chain will negatively affect marine life, especially the foods we harvest, he said.
"A major focus is to be able to develop predictive sorts of models as to how to respond the next time it happens," Ellington said. "For example, was it the right thing to do to use dispersants?" Florida universities and their research teams are seeking answers, pursuing dozens of projects funded by millions of dollars in grants, much of the money provided by BP but also coming from other national research organizations. Among initiatives:
• The Florida Institute of Oceanography, a consortium of 20 research centers including 16 Florida universities, has financed 27 projects through a $10 million grant from BP.
• The National Science Foundation awarded 20 grants to Florida researchers for oil spill work.
• BP has created a multistate Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative and will invest $500 million over 10 years, of which $50 million is already allocated; it is soliciting proposals for research.
Payments cover governments' expenses
BP payments totaled $2.2 billion as of July 21. Here's the breakdown:
|Claims payments to individuals and businesses||$2.0 billion|
|Government payments||$82 million|
|Cleanup vessels||$73 million|
|Tourism payments||$42 million|
|Research payments||$10 million|
|Natural resource damage assessment payments||$8 million|
|Seafood testing/marketing||$5 million|
|Behavioral health||$3 million|
Top payouts went to northwest Florida
Local governments received $31.9 million as of July 21 to cover spill-related response, removal or increased public service costs. Nearly the entire amount went to five counties in northwest Florida. No county in other parts of Florida collected more than the $172,000 paid to Pinellas.
Escambia County: $9.6 million
Bay County: $9.0 million
Walton County: $5.3 million
Okaloosa County: $3.9 million
Franklin County: $2.0 million
Times Publishing's Florida Trend magazine comes out monthly. Visit floridatrend.com to read more about Florida business.
"I came out here on June 23rd. It was a Wednesday, and I couldn't find a speck of white sand for 60 feet inshore. We had daily cleanup for the next three months."
Buck Lee, executive director of the Santa Rosa Island Authority, which manages the Pensacola Beach community
"Everything's gorgeous. Our business since February has been back to better than it's ever been. They come every morning to see if any tar balls came ashore; on the 8 miles, they might occasionally get 5 pounds a mile.''