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The Summer of Oil?

The state’s top environmental official said Tuesday that oil from the massive leak off Louisiana is likely to touch Florida’s Gulf shoreline as early as Thursday, a prelude to what could prove a summer-long battle with the spill.

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole briefed lawmakers in an afternoon conference call about the status of cleanup efforts, even as the damaged well one mile below the surface continues to belch 210,000 gallons of oil daily.

Given the magnitude of the catastrophe and the trouble BP and federal officials are having stemming the spill, Sole said the “potential landfall” in Florida has turned into discussion of the “eventual landfall of product in this state.”

Sole told lawmakers a sheen of oil had now been spotted 30 miles off Pensacola.

“The bad news is that we may be dealing with this for the next two to three months,” Sole said.

Sole said it was likely that the impact of the spill would touch both Florida coasts – with Gulf currents bringing the oil residue onto the Atlantic Coast, where it may result in tar balls on many beaches.

BP plans to place containment structures over the leaking parts of the well. But even that effort, if successful, would stanch only about 85 percent of the leak, Sole said, leaving some 30,000 gallons still flowing into the Gulf.

Along with applying this “dome” over the leak, BP plans to drill a well nearby that effectively would shut off the well damaged in the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion. That work is expected to take as much as three months.

Under questioning from lawmakers, Sole said that BP is steering $25 million to Florida to offset the cost of spill preparations. Attorney General Bill McCollum also has said that a federal $75 million cap on economic damages stemming from natural disasters does not prevent the state from recovering more costs.

Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, took part in Tuesday’s conference call. In a memo to lawmakers, Atwater, a candidate for the Cabinet post of chief financial officer, cited his opposition to legislative attempts to open Florida’s coastal waters to drilling – moves championed by House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, and incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island.
The two lawmakers have since joined a chorus of state officials demanding a full investigation of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. But Gov. Charlie Crist and the front-running candidate to succeed him, Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum, are dismissing the Legislature’s drilling plans.

“The impact that a catastrophe, such as the Deepwater Horizon spill, could have on Florida was at the forefront of my mind,” Atwater wrote. “Despite the many individuals who championed the fiscal benefits and decried possible negative impacts, I was resolute in the need for a comprehensive study.”

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