Research to continue after oil well capped

Even though a cap placed on the broken Deepwater Horizon oil rig Thursday has brought temporary relief to the 86-day spill leaking into the Gulf of Mexico, USF officials will continue to utilize money for research and clean-up efforts in the region.

University spokesman Michael Hoad said the main question that remains is how that money will be spent.

“We want to continue to do research in the Gulf for what will be decades,” he said. “We will see a lot of effects over the next 10 years, and we’re going to see effects for even longer than that. We want to be there to measure it, to figure out what’s happening and if there is something we can do to intervene. We want to be providing the research that shows the right thing to do.”

USF’s Florida Institute of Oceanography received $10 million of $25 million in BP-funded grants last month given to universities in Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi to continue research initiatives – the first of a $500 million commitment from the company.

However, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has also requested $100 million to assist the state with cleanup of the spill – a request that could threaten the amount of funds available for research.

“Governors of the Gulf states are very interested in clean-up money,” Hoad said. “They want money, first, for clean up and, second, to reimburse people who lost their jobs. We want everybody to remember that research is just as important because if we don’t do the research over the next 10 years, we won’t know what’s really happening out there.”

But for fishermen like Captain Mike Anderson of ThunderBay Charter Services, an immediate clean up could save his livelihood.

Anderson has owned and operated his charter service for 10 years, fishing mostly inside Tampa Bay and within eight to 10 miles of Gulf beaches.

He said that his initial reaction to the oil spill when it began spewing into the Gulf was one of compassion for men he had fished with in Venice, La.

“It definitely was one of the most incredible fisheries I’ve ever seen – the fishing was absolutely incredible,” Anderson said. “I can’t say that it is anymore. I don’t know.”

Then, as days continued to pass and the oil continued to gush out of the busted well, Anderson couldn’t help but let his thoughts drift closer to home.

As a host of the “Reel Animals Fishing Show” on 620 WDAE, Anderson soon found himself discussing the spill every week with angry callers and struggled to keep the show from becoming “too political.”

“I just try to keep positive about it all,” he said. “I have to believe that they’re going to shut it off and clean it up for good – this is what I do for a living.”

But to “clean it up for good” requires researching “the invisible problems out in the deep water,” Hoad said.

“Personally, I am afraid people will forget about the research,” Hoad said. “Until (USF researchers) were able to identify invisible oil plumes – there were hydrocarbons in the water, but they just weren’t visible – people didn’t know how many of the claims were real and how many weren’t. USF was there to come in with the heavy science to prove it.”

Anderson agreed that the oil isn’t the only “nasty black cloud” that’s affected the environment and hurt his bottom line.

He said that while the fisheries of Florida are fine, it’s “peoples’ perception of the Gulf states” that is keeping his business down.

When the rig exploded in April, Anderson’s business wasn’t heavily affected because he was already booked through June.

“I got a few calls asking how ‘things were looking in Florida,’ but that was it,” he said.

Now that it’s July – the time when tourism usually picks up – Anderson has noticed a significant slump in his business compared to last July by “about 50 percent to 60 percent.”

He said that if the oil reaches the Tampa Bay area, its effects would be devastating for him and his family.

“This could shut us down and make us change what we do for a living,” Anderson said. “If the oil comes up on our beaches, we’re out of business.”

Likewise, Hoad said it would take more than the promised $500 million to complete the research necessary to save present jobs and preserve the future of the region.

“We have to continue to push for political support for research,” he said. “If we forget the research, we’ll be burying our heads.”