Is Gulf Coast Tourism Coming Back From BP Oil Spill Effects?
Two years after the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, a few communities along the US southern coast are anticipating a banner year for Gulf Coast tourism, if upward trends from last year continue. In fact, the most serious problem facing at least one Gulf Coast tourism community is a shortage of hotel and restaurant workers. Just over the state line in Baldwin County, Alabama, one official was quoted in a local paper, saying that:
"Not only did we surpass our pre-spill condition, we surpassed our previous record year. It actually jumped up to about $277 million in gross revenue...that speaks well to the economic resilience of our cities and everybody working together.”
There may indeed be some reason for optimism. According to the news article, tourist revenues for 2011 were up over 8% from the previous record year of 2007.
Of course, that's Alabama, which gets a relatively small share of Gulf Coast tourism income. In fact, according to figures from the U.S. Travel Association, it is Florida that depends the most on tourism – more than Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama combined. In fact, just under 70% of all tourist dollars spent in the Gulf Coast region go to Florida businesses.
Looking at Web-based sources, it seems Floridians are also cautiously optimistic. The business community in Tampa is expecting “some improvement coming” in 2012 after Gulf Coast tourism plummeted in the wake of the BP oil spill. They're not yet quite ready to pop the champagne corks, however.
It is true that, according to real-time Webcam images, Florida's beaches are as beautiful as they ever were. And of course, BP itself is going all-out to let the world know how “committed” they are to BP oil spill cleanup efforts. At BPGulfUpdate.com, there are numerous articles regarding local seafood, assuring us all that it is “safe, delicious and abundant.”
For the sake of millions of people in the region who depend on tourist revenue for their livelihoods, we hope that all of this portends better times – as the visual evidence would suggest. Still, there are a few nagging issues that suggest the Gulf Coast's remarkable “recovery” may be more cosmetic than substantial.
Let's start with the amount of raw petroleum that was released into the Gulf – which was the equivalent of approximately 4.9 million barrels. The year before the disaster, BP claimed, in the event of a spill, that it would be able to skim and store just under 492,000 barrels a day.
When it actually happened however, the company was able to recover less than 20,000 barrels a day about 4% of what company spokespeople had claimed a year earlier. At that rate – assuming that the oil could actually be recovered – BP oil spill clean up should have taken a little over eight months.
Finding information on how much oil still remains on the the bottom of the Gulf and underneath beaches today – two years later – is devilishly difficult. However, according to Scientific American, as of April 2011, there were still over a million barrels of oil unaccounted for.
In the meantime, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) reports that “...much BP oil remains, it's easy to find.” One reporter for the organization posted recent photos showing marshlands along the coast literally soaked in degraded petroleum. At the same time, there has been a significant increase in the number of sick, dying and dead dolphins (the mammal), while the sea turtle population has “been dealt a severe blow.” Both of these creatures serve as barometers of the general health of the ecosystem.
Another reporter for the NWF points out that there is still much about this disaster that is not known, particularly when it comes to the long-term oil spill effects, quoting NWF Senior Scientist Dr. Doug Inkley: “Previous catastrophes like the Exxon Valdez have shown that impacts of oil disasters last many years or even decades.”
In the same article, the author points out that “...wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico will need the combined efforts of scientists, policymakers and regulators to recover.”
Well, when it comes to the latter two, good luck. As of 26 October 2010 (when Democrats were still nominally in control), 84 bills had been introduced in the House of Representatives to address the dangers of offshore drilling and improve emergency responses. A total of two of those bills passed the house – then died in the Senate.
Biello, David. “One Year After BP Oil Spill, At Least 1.1 Million Barrels Still Missing.” Scientific American, 25 April 2011.
Busby, Guy. “Baldwin County Tourism Outlook Looks Good in 2012 But Workers Are Needed.” Baldwin County Press-Register, 20 March 2012.
Grant, Miles. “NWF Tour Finds BP Oil Still Soaking Louisiana Marshes, Menacing Wildlife.” National Wildlife Federation, 22 March 2012.
McDougal, Jaclyn. “New NWF Report: A Degraded Gulf of Mexico.” National Wildlife Federation, 10 April 2012.
N/A. “Gulf Coast Oil Spill: Webcams of Florida's Gulf Coast.” Available at http://www.naplesnews.com/news/gulf-coast-oil-spill/ . Viewed on 16 April 2012.
N/A. “Gulf Seafood Updates.” http://www.piersystem.com/go/doctype/4699/111051/ . Retrieved 16 April 2012.
N/A. “Oil Spill Index Fact Sheet.” Pew Environment Group. PDF file available at http://www.pewenvironment.org/uploadedFiles/PEG/Publications/Fact_Sheet/Oil%20Spill%20Index%20-%201.pdf. Viewed on 16 April 2012.
N/A. “Potential Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill on Tourism.” Oxford Economics. 2010. PDF