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Date of Issue: July 14, 2010

Polls: U.S. public informed on spill

Predicting the plume

A computer model for the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico indicates the probability of oil reaching Anna Maria Island is 1 percent or less. Islander Image: NOAA

Vacationing New Yorker Phil Thurman can point to the place on a Gulf of Mexico map where the Deepwater Horizon well is gushing oil.

Bill Prince, vacationing on Anna Maria Island from Atlanta, knows generally where the still-growing plume is projected to travel.

Both men — who had been planning to vacation in the Panhandle last week — are aware that the spill that began April 20 about 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana remains about 350 miles away from the Tampa Bay area.

That awareness is good news according to local tourism officials and Island business owners concerned that people outside the area think the spill has polluted the entire Florida Gulf coast.

The Islander last week surveyed about 20 vacationers on the beach. A majority said they were closely following news of the spill and felt well informed.

The results of that small and unscientific survey are similar to the findings in major public opinion polls conducted recently by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Fox News, Gallup Poll, CBS News and CNN.

The Pew survey released last week found that 44 percent of adult Americans said they were closely following news of the spill. The number was the highest for an oil spill since early May 1989, when 52 percent of Americans said they were closely following news about the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.

A week earlier, a Pew poll found just 21 percent said they were following reports on the deadly offshore explosion and spill that followed.

The recent Pew survey also found that 26 percent of Americans were talking about the northern Gulf spill with family and friends — a much higher number than any other headline news topic.

Eighty-two percent of the respondents also correctly answered that Louisiana is the state closest to the spill. Large majorities across all demographic categories correctly answered questions about the BP disaster.

In another poll, conducted by CNN in June, 42 percent of Americans said they thought the spill would directly affect them or their family and 47 percent thought the spill would indirectly affect them.

Oil still far off in Gulf

Efforts to contain and clean up a massive oil spill in the northern Gulf of Mexico continued last week.

As of The Islander’s press time, the oil plume remained about 345 miles from the Tampa Bay area, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the lead agency in the state for the response to the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.

A computer model developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration using historical wind and ocean currents has indicated little likelihood of oil reaching Anna Maria Island.

The report indicates that much of the west coast of Florida has a low probability — 20 percent down to less than 1 percent — of oiling. For this area, the probability is 1 percent or less, according to the NOAA model.