Apr 28, 2010 1:48 AM by Sharlee Jacobs
MOBILE, Ala. (AP) - Florida Gov. Charlie Crist touched ground
after about 90 minutes above the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday and had
no doubts about where he stood on oil drilling off his state's
shore: Not now, no way.
Crist was awed - and not in a good way - at the huge oil spill
spreading from a damaged rig off the Louisiana coast and had
nightmare visions of the same situation in Florida.
"Clearly it could be devastating to Florida if something like
that were to occur. It's the last thing in the world I would want
to see happen in our beautiful state," Crist said. "Until you
actually see it, I don't know how you can comprehend and appreciate
the shear magnitude of that thing. It's frightening."
Crist, who opposed drilling off Florida's coast until softening
his stance over the past two years, said there is no question now
that lawmakers should give up on the idea this year and in coming
years. He has said previously he would support drilling if it was
far enough from shore, safe enough and clean enough. He said the
spill is proof that's not possible.
Coast Guard Capt. Steve Poulin, the sector commander for coastal
Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, briefed Crist on
the situation before he, the governor and Florida environmental
secretary Michael Sole boarded a C-144 aircraft for a 90 minute
flight above the gulf.
With Crist strapped in a backward-facing chair, the Coast Guard
opened up the entire back of the plane to give him a wide view of
the dark oil slick spreading in a 80- by 42-mile blob in the gulf.
"It's enormous. It's everywhere. It's absolutely unbelievable
in it's magnitude," Crist said.
On his flight back to Tallahassee, Crist said the spill is
evidence that drilling technology can't meet his criteria for
drilling off Florida.
"Clearly that one isn't far enough and that's about 50 to 60
miles out, it's clearly not clean enough after we saw what we saw
today - that's horrific - and it certainly isn't safe enough. It's
the opposite of safe," Crist said.
Poulin told Crist that at best, the spill can be contained in
two weeks by placing a dome over the pipe that broke during an
April 20 explosion. But Poulin said a dome has never been used at
such an extreme depth - 5,000 feet.
If it doesn't work, Poulin told Crist and Sole that another
option is to drill a new line next to the broken one to relieve
pressure. That could take 90 days.
"Wow, 90! Ouch," Sole said.
Meanwhile, 1,000 barrels of oil a day are gushing into the gulf.
Poulin said it's hard to tell how much is making it to the surface
and how much is being suspended in the depths. A shift in winds
over the next few days may push the water toward the gulf coast,
but Poulin said he don't know when, or if, the coastline could be
hit by the oil slick.
As soon as he arrived back home, Crist called Florida National
Guard Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett and emergency management director
David Halstead and asked them to work with Sole and the Coast Guard
to make a plan to protect Florida's beaches should the oil be
pushed by wind and waves toward the Panhandle.
"It's gianormous," Crist told Halstead.