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A year later, what's a little oil in the Gulf?

On a recent near-perfect day, I walked a gulf beach so filled with wildly colored umbrellas, spring breakers, locals and snowbirds, you could hardly find an open spot in the sand.

It was that particularly nice kind of sand we have around here, though if you ask me, it's more like finely sifted flour than the sugar-sand that those come-to-Florida ads promise.

Gulls dove for errant Fritos and Type A's lounged with their Kindles. Kids romped, boats sailed by, and it was, as always, one of the very best things about being here.

Which makes forgetting what happened dangerous, and also dangerously easy.

A year ago today, an explosion on an oil rig in our gulf killed 11 workers and began the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

As oil spewed into the water at 60,000 barrels a day for months, the name Deepwater Horizon became as familiar as the Exxon Valdez.

We saw pictures of birds slimed in oil and heard about dead turtles, dolphins and other marine life, heartbreaking and infuriating, take your pick. We saw dirtied beaches and oil-slicked waters and learned of potential untold damage down deep. We saw neighbors dependent on the gulf for livelihoods in seafood or tourism hurting in the aftermath.

Hundreds of protesters dressed in black linked hands across our beaches and said never again.

In January, an investigation ordered by the president found this kind of environmental nightmare could repeat itself if we don't have significant reform in both government and the oil industry.

And, life went on. And already, we're forgetting.

Again, there are murmurs of expanding drilling in the gulf, talk that those carefully crafted boundaries to keep rigs far off our coast could come under attack yet again. "Some people have gotten amnesia and washed their hands of any responsibility for action," former Gov. Bob Graham, who co-chaired the presidential commission, said recently.

It's not just drill-baby-drill politicians. This month, a Quinnipiac University poll said 60 percent of Florida voters support expanded drilling, up from 42 percent.

A lot of us who live here love the gulf, so I wonder if some of this isn't about frustration and fear. Maybe it's the price of gas creeping toward $4 a gallon, the state of the world and the feeling we need to do something, anything, when in truth new oil would take years and be a drop in the bucket, relatively speaking. And funny, how we talk of ending our oil addiction even as our new governor turns down money for a high-speed train and local voters oppose commuter rail.

On the beach that day, I saw oystercatchers and skimmers and terns on the shoreline. Way out, brown pelicans dive-bombed a school of something interesting enough to catch the interest of a fishing boat chugging over to have a look.

It is a testament to nature, and to dumb luck, that things look as good as they do one year later. But scientists say it will take a long time to fully know the damage, and years for recovery.

If we love what we have here, we should remember the precarious state of safety and the lack of regulation we found out about in the past year.

Because with talk of risking it again, we can't afford to forget.

A year later, what's a little oil in the Gulf? 04/19/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 2:38am]

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