TALLAHASSEE — With an oil slick and tar balls just 50 miles offshore, Florida's top environmental official and attorney general say the state is bracing for pollution and damage to hit the state's beaches and its oyster, bait and sport fisheries.
"A shark can outrun this plume. An oyster is not going to," said Attorney General Bill McCollum. "It is going to have an impact. There's no question on it — some impact on the fisheries. We just hope it's less. It all depends. Nobody knows."
Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole said BP is the "responsible party" under federal law that should pay oil costs and damages associated with containing and cleaning the oil spill that began when one of its rigs exploded two weeks ago off Louisiana. Along with Mississippi and Alabama, Louisiana faces far more threats from the oil spill than Florida.
But Florida won't be unscathed.
"The magnitude of this spill is daunting," Sole said. "We still have an ongoing release of some 5,000 barrels of oil occurring just 50 miles off Louisiana. … It's not like 'We had a spill. We're cleaning it up and it'll be over.' The concern is that [the oil spill] may come back on shore and cause subsequent impacts to our resources."
Sole said an oil slick — not a full-fledged soaking spill — and "slight tar balls" will likely make a landing on Florida's shores.
So far, BP has strung up about 15 miles of containment booms off Florida. But Sole said it's probably not enough because a six-county region east of there needs protection. And even the booms aren't going to be enough.
"Booms are not fail safe and actually are very prone to fail. A 1-knot current can cause a product to go under a boom or over a boom," Sole said. "A little bit of chop will no longer allow that boom to be as successful. So while they're appropriate to get deployed to protect sensitive areas, candidly, we cannot boom off the peninsula or the panhandle of Florida to prevent landfall of the product."