Drilling Ban to remain in the Eastern Gulf

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Announcement brings mixed reviews

By Ada Lang

The Obama administration's decision to continue a ban
on drilling in the federal waters of the eastern Gulf of
Mexico until 2022, in the wake of the BP oil spill, is being
greeted warmly in Cedar Key and Levy County - where
seafood production, tourism and the pristine coastline were
at risk.
U.S. Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar was
expected to make the announcement on Wednesday afternoon
and few details were known beyond reports from a senior
Obama administration official saying that the eastern
Gulf will no longer be considered for leasing. A month
before the spill in April, an announcement had been made to
allow drilling in that area.
Levy County Visitor Bureau Director Carol McQueen
said the continued ban is good news. "Until we can get some
resolve on better issues of how they drill it's a good thing,"
McQueen said. "Florida cannot undergo another oil spill of
any kind because it has hurt the tourism industry," she said.
The decline in tourism at Cedar Key and other places in
Levy County has a trickle down effect at restaurants, shops
and other places that cater to visitors.
She said the resulting loss of state and local sales taxes
has a trickle down affect for state residents. "It's our largest
tax base — the state sales taxes, and when people stop coming
to Florida it hurts all of us, including school districts...
and other agencies."
She noted that when oil affected the Panhandle the
entire state suffered. "Only one small portion of the
Panhandle suffered, but it affected all of Florida. There's a
huge campaign to continue to bring people here, which BP
helped pay for, but it's been a tremendous effect...to let people
know we didn't have oil here."
McQueen did not state that she is opposed to drilling,
rather she said, "It's probably not a bad thing to
make sure it's all done correctly because we can't have
these mistakes. It's probably a good thing. We have to do
drilling better."
On the other hand, Mayor Pat O’Neal said that the
moratorium is a double-edged sword for the island community.
“I’m happy as long as it doesn’t put gas prices
throughthe roof because we’re so dependent on tourist travel
and there’s no mass transportation to Cedar Key,” he said.
“So, if gas prices go up, we’re hurt. If drilling goes up, we’re
hurt by the threat of a spill. I’m cautiously optimistic.”
Commissioner Sue Colson commented, “This will give
us a few years to find alternative sources of energy.” Colson
went on to say, “We didn’t have to have a drop of oil for it
to have drastic consequences. There has been a 30% drop in
clam sales since the spill. Until they can do a better job with
safety regulations and complete assurances that drilling is
safe (then the ban is a probably a good thing).”
Reached for comment by phone, Leslie Sturmer, UF
IFAS Shellfish Aquaculture Extension Agent, noted that
once the spill occurred, most clam farmers decided to plant
no seed - expecting them to be wiped out by the approaching
oil. This not only will affect their incomes 12 to 18 months
down the line but it will also cause a shortage of clams available
for sale.
Lou Elliott Jones, editor, Cedar Key Beacon/Chiefland Citizen, contributed
to this story.