Oil rig explosion could threaten Northwest Florida's coastline

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Rosemary Beach- The Coast Guard estimates that oil rig explosion off the coast of Louisiana is leaking 42,000 gallons of oil a day. Crews are using robots to try and stop the leak a mile below the surface. If that doesn't work, they'll have to drill a relief well, which could take months.

The biggest argument against drilling for oil off the Florida coastline has been the risk to the beaches and our tourism industry. Some fear our beaches may be endangered anyway, because of the explosion and spill off the Louisiana coastline. "This oil spill is 600 miles square and it's growing exponentially, so it's very, very, very likely that we will be cleaning up oil off the beaches of the gulf coast in very short order," said Dave Rauschkolb.

Earlier this year, Rauschkolb organized the 80 beach "Hands Across the Sand" drilling protest. He says he's appalled by what's happened in the gulf. "The oil companies have been touting newer, safer, cleaner technology for months and months trying to get this oil drilling ban lifted and it's very clear to me and it should be clear to everyone that this is just a smoke screen. This accident is a classic example. Lives are going to be affected by this. Restaurants, lodging, all the people in Atlanta, Montgomery, Birmingham who own second homes here, it's going to be very scary to see what happens with this. I greatly hope they are able to cap this well."

In fact, lives are already being effected by the spill. The Merriam family, visiting from Birmingham, is reevaluating it's summer plans. "I had a Venice trip booked to go tuna fishing next month on the tenth. I don't think I want to eat the fish that are caught near an oil spill nor do I want to fish in it," said Rick Merriam. And that might not be their only change in plans. "In two months we are supposed to come back here (to Rosemary Beach) so that vacation destination may change depending on this oil spill."

Two weeks ago, the Florida House killed any chance of the legislature passing a drilling bill this session. The rig explosion was the exclamation point on the decision. But that doesn't stop the federal government from opening up new leases in the Gulf, as close as 3-miles from the shore.
"We have to do everything we can to protect what you see behind me (the gulf), we have to protect Florida's legacy for our children and grandchildren," said Merriam.

Rescue teams have given up the search for 11 rig workers lost in Tuesday's explosion. They're now presumed dead.

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