BRADENTON, Fla. — Florida’s elected Cabinet yesterday expressed frustration at the failure of BP and the federal government to shut off the flow of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico and perform cleanup efforts.
The Deepwater Horizon oil rig, leased to BP, exploded 51 days ago and killed 11 workers about 40 miles off the southeast coast of Louisiana.
Several efforts to stop the flow have failed and now tar balls and oil sheen have reached four Florida Panhandle counties. A state of emergency continues in effect for 26 counties.
A BP contractor is responding quickly to pick up the tar, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole told officials yesterday.
However, the closing of federal waters outside the western Panhandle is “impacting our fisheries now,” said Nick Wiley, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. So far, though, no state waters — which extend out nine miles from the shoreline on the Gulf Coast — have been closed, he stressed.
“The one challenge for Florida is preparing for hurricane season,” Florida Division of Emergency Management director David Halstead said.
As the six-month hurricane season began last week, Halstead fully activated the Florida emergency operations center as the oil reached the state’s northwest shoreline. With the oil crisis to handle, he said he will run two operations and he may need extra help from out of state. While no hurricanes are on the immediate horizon, scientists are calling for a busier-than-normal hurricane season.
Halstead said the state expects to incur $7.5 million in expenses by the end of June for oil spill response efforts, while preparations by Florida counties are expected to cost another $7 million. Those expenses are expected to be covered by $25 million BP gave the state for initial response efforts.
Though Gov. Charlie Crist asked BP for another $50 million for response efforts, BP vice president Bob Fryar announced yesterday that the company would provide another $25 million to help the state deal with the oil emergency.
BP has also provided the state with $25 million for advertising to counter the negative effects the spill is having on tourism, but the state’s hotel and restaurant industries are reporting declines.
Several Cabinet members expressed frustration at how slowly BP has responded to individual and business claims for lost wages and revenues. They also complained that BP and the federal government have not acted quickly enough to bring in vessels to skim the ocean for oil as part of the effort to contain the growing slick.
Fryar said more than 38,000 claims have been filed along the Gulf so far and that BP has paid out nearly $50 million. BP will pay for economic losses as long as the oil spill crisis continues, he said.
With Florida counties feeling direct and indirect impacts, Crist urged BP to open more claims offices. BP is “a corporation with enormous resources,” he said. “Family businesses here don’t have resources so the speed [with which] that you can relieve suffering is incredibly important.”
On Monday, Crist formed the Gulf Oil Spill Economic Recovery Task Force to facilitate economic recovery efforts. The task force, which holds its first meeting today, will work with BP and state agencies to assess the economic impact of the oil spill and secure financial assistance as needed.