Pensacola Beach, Fla. In the conservative Florida Panhandle, where Sarah Palin’s battle cry “Drill, Baby, Drill” is still visible on car bumpers, some are reconsidering their support of offshore drilling as a growing spill in the Gulf of Mexico drifts closer to shore.
Charter captain Jim McMahon, who spent Thursday catching cobia and king mackerel, said the spill changed his mind.
“I am pessimistic about this,” he said. “It could be devastating to the fishing and tourism industry. People aren’t going to come to a beach if they have to step through tar balls.”
McMahon isn’t alone. President Barack Obama on Friday directed that no new offshore oil drilling leases be issued unless rigs have new safeguards to prevent a repeat of the explosion that unleashed the massive spill threatening the Gulf Coast with major environmental damage. And Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who surveyed the massive oil slick this week and called it “frightening,” backed off his support for offshore oil extraction.
“It’s the last thing in the world I would want to see happen in our beautiful state,” said Crist, adding that there is no question now that lawmakers should give up on the idea this year and in coming years. “Until you actually see it, I don’t know how you can comprehend and appreciate the sheer magnitude of that thing.”
Obama recently lifted a drilling moratorium for many offshore areas, including the Atlantic and Gulf areas. On Friday, he ordered Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to report within 30 days on what new technologies are needed to tighten safeguards against oil spills from deep water drilling rigs.
Environmentalists were already mobilizing around the issue.
“This event is a game- changer, and the consequences, I believe, will be long-lasting ecologically and politically — and will be irreversible,” said Richard Charter, energy consultant to Defenders of Wildlife.
The full fallout of the spill, however, remains to be seen.
Gibbs and other officials said Obama still remains committed to plans to expand offshore drilling to areas that now are off-limits, including the Atlantic Ocean from Delaware to central Florida; the northern waters of Alaska; and the oil-rich eastern Gulf of Mexico, 125 miles from Florida beaches.
On the still pristine coast of Pensacola Beach, bikini-clad Kiley Boster looked out at orange buoys and a boom designed to collect oil that approached an oyster bed and bird sanctuary near the shore.
“I would rather we drill here than spend another 10 years fighting at war and being dependent on oil from other places,” she said.