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Don't drill in Gulf of Mexico, beach cities agree

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — Pinellas County's beach communities voiced strong opposition last week to any oil drilling within state-controlled waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

"Offshore drilling spills are a significant threat to the beaches," beach officials said in a resolution passed by 10 of the 11 members of the Barrier Islands Governmental Council, or BIG-C.

The resolution opposes any attempt by the Legislature to allow offshore oil drilling in "any of the waters" within state jurisdiction — an area that extends 10 miles into the Gulf of Mexico.

The representative of Belleair Beach abstained because the City Council has not taken a position. The issue is on Monday's council agenda, though, and is expected to pass. If that happens, the city's name will be added to the resolution.

"We want to build a network of support around the state," said Bill Smith, an Indian Shores council member who heads the BIG-C's subcommittee on oil drilling in the gulf.

The resolution urges "all elected officials" to join in the opposition to offshore drilling, which the group said "would have a negligible effect on gas prices and our country's dependence on foreign oil."

Smith said the committee has been closely following an oil spill from an oil rig off the coast of Australia. The spill, which began in August, has contaminated an estimated 6,000 square miles and continues to leak an estimated 400 barrels a day.

The spill is considered the worst since drilling began off Australia about 40 years ago, he said.

Technologies used to try to stop and clean up the spilled oil are the same as those proposed for use in Florida waters, according to the BIG-C.

A 1993 oil spill after a boat collision at the mouth of Tampa Bay resulted in more than 300,000 gallons of oil contaminating Pinellas County beaches. That spill, according to the BIG-C, resulted in a 45 percent drop in tourism and a $5 billion loss over the next two years.

Tourism contributes $6.6 billion annually to Pinellas County's economy and $60 billion annually to the state.

The group also pointed to the "hundreds" of oil rigs damaged or destroyed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, resulting in spillage of nearly 750,000 gallons of petroleum products into the Gulf of Mexico.

The BIG-C's resolution noted "a well-organized and well-funded effort" by lobbyists for the oil industry "to convince Florida legislators, elected officials and citizens of the economic benefits and safety" of offshore oil drilling.

In light of support from some legislators and statements by Gov. Charlie Crist that offshore oil drilling is something "worth considering," the BIG-C is concerned that state officials will ignore the potential negative impact of drilling to coastal lands and waters as well as the tourism industry.

Beach officials say those negative impacts could include deposits of drilling mud containing heavy metals such as mercury.

"Despite technological advances in oil rig drilling technology, there is no positive assurance that catastrophic damage to our coastline, beaches, plant and fish life can be avoided," the BIG-C resolution says.

Don't drill in Gulf of Mexico, beach cities agree 10/03/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 3, 2009 4:30am]
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