Is there an oil-slicked beach in Florida’s future?

They say timing in life is everything. It would seem that timing was not on President Obama’s side when he announced that the nation, needing greater oil production, must open up our Florida coasts to oil exploration.

It seems like it was only days after he made the announcement that the disastrous explosion aboard the oilrig off the Louisiana coast killed (as of the date of this writing) 11 workers and is spilling thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

This is an old battle. Florida, with our massive tourist-based economy, has been fighting the prospect of oil drilling off the coast as long as I can remember. I wrote a column a number of years ago suggesting that if oil drilling platforms off our coast were inevitable, then we should fasten fake giant aluminum palm fronds on top of the rigs, suggesting that humongous tropical trees grew off our coast.

At first we were told that the Louisiana oilrig disaster was spill proof. We were told that the rig would stand and the feared collapse into the sea was not going to happen. We were told that the prospect of an oil spill was not going to occur as the “new” rigs were designed to prevent such a tragedy. Now the Coast Guard is saying, “…this is a very serious spill, absolutely.”

The Coast Guard and the oil-drilling company officials are estimating that 1,000 barrels of oil are leaking each day heading toward the Louisiana coast. The rainbow-colored sheen of oil stretches hundreds of square milles about 25 times larger than it appeared to be a day earlier.

Remember, the rig in Louisiana was 50 miles offshore. If the same rig were built 50 miles off Miami Beach and there was a similar disaster, the oil slick would be within 30 miles of our beaches. And, that is only the first day after the spill. Adding 40,000 barrels a day to the spill we would soon find our beaches black, slick and stinking.

Who would clean up the mess? Who would pay for the clean up? How long would it take? Would conventions make last minute location switches to other cities? Would our tourists, realizing that they would be staying in a hotel within feet of a stinking beach, elect to go to the Jamaica, Puerto Rico or Mexico? I’ll bet you they would.

There aren’t any guarantees that an oilrig disaster will not happen. Modern engineering minimizes such a failure. But, it cannot be 100 percent ruled out. Can Florida, so heavily dependent upon tourism, take that chance? I do not think so.

We must make sure that drilling off our coast never happens. Besides, the benefits are years away and we as a nation are making every effort to minimize our dependency on oil. Perhaps the demands for oil in the future will not even require that we sink oil-drilling platforms off our coasts. Here’s something to think about: What would a hurricane do to a platform off our coast?

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