Special Reports

Buchanan, Castor again voice opposition to expanded drilling

MANATEE — Two local Congressional members reiterated their opposition to expanded offshore drilling Tuesday as a massive oil spill continued to potentially threaten Florida’s coast.

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, urged President Barack Obama in a letter to reconsider a proposal to expand oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, also repeated her opposition after a Capitol Hill meeting with the companies involved in the spill.

“I do not believe that opening more drilling rigs closer to the shore in the Gulf Coast is a wise choice,” Buchanan wrote.

Federal law now prohibits drilling within 234 miles of Tampa Bay, but in late March, Obama proposed allowing rigs as close as 125 miles from shore. Three weeks later, an explosion aboard the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon killed 11 workers and began spewing an estimated 200,000 gallons of oil a day into the Gulf.

That “is proof that despite its claims, the oil industry is incapable of preventing catastrophic spills from occurring,” Buchanan’s letter said.

He said in a telephone interview that he penned the letter because of “the fact it’s moving closer to Manatee and Sarasota counties” and could jeopardize the area’s tourism and fishing industries.

“We need to do everything we can to stop this from happening again,” Buchanan said.

Castor, whose district includes a small portion of Manatee, agreed.

“I remain firm in my belief that this disaster demonstrates that oil drilling threatens our beaches, our environment and jobs in our region,” she said in a statement. “We cannot and we must not allow drilling even one mile closer to our fragile shorelines.”

She and other Congressional members also met with executives and engineers of BP PLC, Transocean Ltd. and Halliburton Co. during a Capitol Hill briefing on the spill Tuesday. BP leased the rig from Transocean, the owner and operator, while Halliburton provided several services on the rig.

Castor emerged from the briefing with criticism of the companies.

“I went to the briefing expecting to hear that BP is committed to paying for the cleanup, that they accept full responsibility and to hear that the situation is under control,” she said in a statement. “Unfortunately, that is not at all what I heard. Their answers were vague and lacked specificity, and sometimes they didn’t have the answers at all.

“Their remarks were especially unsettling about progress staunching the flow and the volume of oil spilled. We must hold these companies accountable.”