More Crude Washes Ashore, As Oil Spill Decimates Gulf Coast Tourism

A quarter mile of Florida’s Pensacola Beach was closed yesterday, as crude from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill washed ashore there. According to the Associated Press, it marks the first time a beach in the state has been closed because of the disaster.

Meanwhile, in Mississippi, a large patch of oil oozed into Mississippi Sound between the state’s mainland and barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico. All along the Gulf Coast, the tourism industry is starting to feel the effects of the oil spill.

Despite BP’s promises that it would be capturing most of the oil spewing from the stricken well a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico, video from an undersea camera continues to show oil and gas gushing from the well.

Collection efforts did hit a setback earlier this week, when the collection cap over the broken riser had to be removed, following a collision with undersea robot. It was returned to position late Wednesday, 10 hours after being removed. BP said yesterday it is gradually ramping back up to capture about 700,000 gallons a day with the cap, and burning off an additional 438,000 a day using an incinerator ship.

Now the oil giant it saying it should have the capacity to capture up to 3.3 million gallons a day by mid-to-late July, once four giant ships capable of collecting oil are positioned and connected to the sea floor, the Associated Press said. The spill wont’ be stopped until BP finishes drilling relief wells, something it hopes will be completed in late August.

No one knows exactly how much oil is coming from the well, though the federal government’s worst-case scenario put the number at around 2.5 million gallon.

According to a Business Week report, weather in the Gulf is threatening to complicate everything, as the first tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season may hamper efforts to halt the leak. Forecasters said there is a 60 percent chance of such a storm forming this weekend, and it may head into the Gulf. If that happens, two ships on the surface collecting siphoned oil may need to be evacuated.

The worst oil spill in U.S. history is starting to take a heavy toll on the states it impacts, as tourists steer clear of Gulf Coast beaches. Those beaches would normally be packed this time of year.

According to USA Today, hotel and resort owners from Louisiana to Florida have reported a steep decline in bookings, while charter boat guides across Florida are seeing cancellations and fielding fewer reservations. There are only about 100 tourists currently on Louisiana’s Grand Isle, where the population normally grows from roughly 1,500 to more than 10,000 during the summer, USA Today said.

The losses to the states will be staggering. According to USA Today, Louisiana saw $1.36 billion of its more than $8 billion in tourism dollars generated by its Gulf region last year. Alabama’s beaches produced a quarter of the $9.2 billion in tourism dollars that came into the state in 2009. And of the 19 million visitors who flocked to Mississippi July 2008 through June 2009, 5.5 million traveled to the state’s three coastal counties.

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