SIESTA KEY, Fla. — A Republican congressman from Florida said Tuesday that a U.S. Coast Guard official had told him that the runaway Deepwater Horizon well could pump crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico for a minimum of four months.
"We've got to cap it today," U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan said at a news conference he held on one of the nation's most celebrated beaches in the nation.
"It'll be probably one of the largest, the biggest ecological disaster in our nation’s history," he added.
Officials representing the U.S. Coast Guard and the federal Department of Homeland Security accompanied Buchanan on a flight Monday from New Orleans over the site of BP’s offshore drilling rig and well. An oil slick stalking the Gulf coast began there after a fire and explosion last month.
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Calling the situation “unbelievable” and “devastating,” Buchanan expressed fears that the spill, even if it doesn’t hit beaches in Florida, will scare away enough tourists to hurt a local economy just recovering from a housing bust and the effects of a severe recession.
The spill already measures over 100 miles by 120 miles, and threatens to contaminate beaches, and damage wildlife and fisheries, Buchanan noted.
“The biggest thing we need to do, and the reason I went is: We’ve got to cap it today,” Buchanan said. “We’ve got plenty of time to assess blame and other things.
“We have 210,000 gallons, minimally, pouring into the Gulf every day that we can’t stop,” Buchanan said. “It’s unbelievable, you know, they claim they have all these preventions and everything else, it’s unbelievable that we’re in the situation, but we’re trying to do everything we can.”
Buchanan called for accountability from BP, a thought echoed by his colleague, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., who represents another coastal Florida district.
“The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and the fallout from the disaster are stark reminders that drilling for oil too close to Florida’s coastline imperils Florida’s economy, environment and security,” she wrote in a press release.
“I pressed BP, Transocean and Halliburton oil executives in a hearing last week to take responsibility for the disaster. You have my commitment that I will do everything to hold them accountable.”
Castor, who like Buchanan is opposed to drilling near Florida’s shores, was among those who got first crack last week at questioning executives and engineers about the disaster.
Queried by reporters about his personal views, Buchanan acknowledged he had been “devastated” by what he had seen.
“I felt that, you know, every generation leaves it better for the next generation; I just felt that it’s a sad situation — I don’t know _ how did we get there? How did they not know drilling at 5,000 feet, it’s a different environment?” he said.
“I don’t feel like they had a very good back-up plan, I think there’s going to be a lot of questions that are going to get asked of BP and the industry at large,” he said. “I think they’ve set back their cause, especially as it relates to drilling off beaches and other things, which I’ve been against.”
Asked whether he lives on a beach that might be fouled with oil, Buchanan replied in the affirmative — he lives on Longboat Key — but said he’s less worried about his home than the region as a whole.
“I love the sunsets, I love the beaches, I’m a boater, my sons like to fish, so this is the reason — we’re fortunate we can live where we want, we think we live in the most beautiful place in the country,” he said.
He recalled that during his boyhood, he lived near Lake Erie, which was too polluted for swimming or fishing.
“The environment here is a big asset,” he said, with frolicking sunbathers on the pristine beach providing a complimentary backdrop. “Part of what we sell here is good life. Good life is beaches and clean water; it means good business, and that really wraps up my feeling about it in a strong way.”