New Study: Tourism and Fishing Outweigh Oil Drilling

Group opposed to oil drilling
Patricia Hubbard, right, says the impact of the BP oil spill is still being felt by Florida's beachside businesses.
MADEIRA BEACH (2010-12-9) -

President Obama recently enacted a seven-year ban on oil drilling in federal waters offshore. But state officials could still approve exploration just off the Gulf Coast. A group of Pinellas business and environmental leaders - backed by a new study - say it's not worth the risk.

The pictures of tar balls on the Panhandle beaches may be fading into the collective memory, but the impact of the BP oil spill is still being felt along the Gulf of Mexico. Patricia Hubbard is CFO of John's Pass Village.

"This oil spill that happened this summer affected us not just economically, but affected us emotionally," says Hubbard. "For the little bit of oil that may be out there, to us it's just not worth the risk. It's not worth us sacrificing not just our livelihood, but our lives."

Hubbard says businesses at the Madeira Beach attraction have lost 20 percent of their business, compared to last year.

And its not just Hubbard who's been affected. Hotel operators and restaurant owners along the Pinellas coast are still reeling. Robin Grabowski is with the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce.

"I just traveled outside the state and to Key West this past weekend. And there's still people who have just come to our state and said, "I refrained for six months. It's taken me this long to determine whether you really did have oil'," she says. "Some people who call in are still asking if there's any residual effect washing up on our shores."

The president's recent announcement of a seven-year ban on drilling in federal waters was warmly welcomed along much of the coast. But there's still the possiblity Tallahassee lawmakers - embolded by a new governor who backs drilling - will open state waters, just offshore.

Mark Hubbard owns a marina that hosts several party boats and fishing charters.

"If oil drilling were allowed in state waters and there was to be an accident even close the magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon accident," says Hubbard, "and oil got on the beaches, our companies would be closed for years, and damage would go on for generations cleaning this mess up."

Their sentiments are being backed by a new study released by Environment Florida and the Sierra Club. Sarah Bucci is with Environment Florida.

"When you total up the sustainable uses of Florida's coast in our region from tourism and fishing and compare it to the value of oil and gas that might be under the ocean," Bucci says, "we found that the value of our coastline for sustainable uses is worth three times as much as the estimated oil and gas under the ocean floor."

Bucci says the study - using government data - shows coastal tourism and fishing account for an economic impact of $32 billion every year on Florida's Gulf Coast. She says in 2008, those businesses accounted for 335,000 jobs. And that, she says, is worth protecting.

"We cannot let another tragedy like this happen again," she says, "and we cannot let it happen off of Florida's coasts."

But it will take more than studies and beachside news conferences to keep the drilling rigs away. Grabowski says she plans several trips to lobby lawmakers

"We currently represent over 500 businesses," says Grabowski, "and we will continue to zero in one on one with each elected official up there, and get them to voice their opposition to this as hard as we can, with the power of the beachside businesses behind us."

Grabowski says she'll be lobbying politicians to instead back alternative sources of energy.

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