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Oil Slick Changes Fla. Gov's Mind on Drilling

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist looks through the cockpit of a Coast Guard C-144 during a trip to see the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico that's spreading after a drilling rig exploded.
AP Photo/Brendan Farrington
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist touched ground after about 90 minutes above the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday and had no doubts about where he stood on oil drilling off his state's shore: Not now, no way.

Crist was awed - and not in a good way - at the huge oil spill spreading from a damaged rig off the Louisiana coast and had nightmare visions of the same situation in Florida.

"Clearly it could be devastating to Florida if something like that were to occur. It's the last thing in the world I would want to see happen in our beautiful state," Crist said. "Until you actually see it, I don't know how you can comprehend and appreciate the shear magnitude of that thing. It's frightening."

Crist, who opposed drilling off Florida's coast until softening his stance over the past two years, said there is no question now that lawmakers should give up on the idea this year and in coming years. He has said previously he would support drilling if it was far enough from shore, safe enough and clean enough. He said the spill is proof that's not possible.

Coast Guard Capt. Steve Poulin, the sector commander for coastal Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, briefed Crist on the situation before he, the governor and Florida environmental secretary Michael Sole boarded a C-144 aircraft for a 90 minute flight above the gulf.

With Crist strapped in a backward-facing chair, the Coast Guard opened up the entire back of the plane to give him a wide view of the dark oil slick spreading in a 80- by 42-mile blob in the gulf.

"It's enormous. It's everywhere. It's absolutely unbelievable in it's magnitude," Crist said.

On his flight back to Tallahassee, Crist said the spill is evidence that drilling technology can't meet his criteria for drilling off Florida.

"Clearly that one isn't far enough and that's about 50 to 60 miles out, it's clearly not clean enough after we saw what we saw today - that's horrific - and it certainly isn't safe enough. It's the opposite of safe," Crist said.

Poulin told Crist that at best, the spill can be contained in two weeks by placing a dome over the pipe that broke during an April 20 explosion. But Poulin said a dome has never been used at such an extreme depth - 5,000 feet.

If it doesn't work, Poulin told Crist and Sole that another option is to drill a new line next to the broken one to relieve pressure. That could take 90 days.

"Wow, 90! Ouch," Sole said.

Efforts to close the ruptured well having thus far failed, the Coast Guard is now considering lighting the floating mess on fire.

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said the controlled burns would be done during the day far from shore. Crews would make sure marine life and people were protected and that work on other oil rigs would not be interrupted.

About 1,000 barrels of oil a day are gushing into the gulf. Poulin said it's hard to tell how much is making it to the surface and how much is being suspended in the depths. A shift in winds over the next few days may push the water toward the gulf coast, but Poulin said he didn't know when, or if, the coastline could be hit by the oil slick.

More on the Oil Rig Explosion

Coast Guard May Ignite Gulf Oil Slick
Oil Rig Cook Haunted by Nightmares Since Blast
Oil Spill Growing off Coast after Rig Explosion
Oil Spill Continues; Will Robot Fix Leak?
Man-Made Disaster in the Gulf
Crews Work to Stop Oil Leak in Gulf
Sunken Oil Rig Off Louisiana Coast is Leaking
New Oil-Rig Safety Rules Eyed Before Blast
Louisiana Oil Rig Explosion

As soon as he arrived back home, Crist called Florida National Guard Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett and emergency management director David Halstead and asked them to work with Sole and the Coast Guard to make a plan to protect Florida's beaches should the oil be pushed by wind and waves toward the Panhandle.

"It's gianormous," Crist told Halstead.