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Sole tells legislators oil hasn't hit Florida yet but brace for the long haul

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole briefed legislators in a conference call on Tuesday and told them that while Florida still has no evidence of oil in its waters because "Mother Nature has been a little bit kind to us over the last several days," the problem could be with us for months ahead.

"The good news is the spill is still far off Florida, but bad news is we could be dealing with this for another 2 to 3 months,'' he said.

The probabilities don't look good, he said. "As this plume continues to grow, there will be, sooner or later, the influence of the loop current on this product,'' he said, referring to the current that loops from the Gulf of Mexico around the tip of Florida and onto the Atlantic Coast. When that happens, he said, the oil "will be so weathered it will be in the form of tarballs.''

But if the oil moves more quickly to the south than it has been, time is the state's worst enemy "and things could change. If the plume goes completely into the loop current, I would think you would see actually more than just tarballs, you could see ...a mass of product.''

BP continues to have no success activating its blowout prevention device, Sole said, so it is preparing to constructe a 125-ton dome over the leak with pipes the run to the surface and flow into a barge to collect the leaking oil., he said. If that effort fails, the last resort is the construction of relief wells, which could take two or three months.

But, Sole, warned: "Nobody wants to muscle that blowout prevention device because if it fails completely instead of 5,000 barrels per day, it could go up to 1 million barrels a day."

Several legislators asked about attempts by BP to shield itself from liability and payouts to the state.

Sen. Dan Gelber asked about liability waivers that were being circulated by BP among people on the coast. Sole confirmed that they had circulated liability waivers among volunteers but had "curtailed that activity and I believe that is no longer being deployed."

Rep. Greg Evers asked about the impact of just-passed bill limiting attorneys fees of any lawyers hired by the attorney general on behalf of the state to sue the oil company. Sole said Attorney General Bill McCollum, who supported the fee limit, "felt that should not limit our ability to get cost recovery."