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Gulf spill may send ripples into Utah economy

Leonard Lawton of Pass Christian, Miss., fishes Saturday next to an oil retaining boom in Bay St. Louis, Miss.
Leonard Lawton of Pass Christian, Miss., fishes Saturday next to an oil retaining boom in Bay St. Louis, Miss.
Dave Martin, Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — The calamitous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico isn't just a mess for the people who live or work on the coast. If you drink coffee, eat shrimp, like bananas or plan to buy a new set of tires, you could end up paying more because of the disaster.

The slick has forced the shutdown of the gulf's rich fishing grounds and could also spread to the busy shipping lanes at the mouth of the Mississippi River, tying up the cargo vessels that move millions of tons of fruit, rubber, grain, steel and other commodities and raw materials in and out of the nation's interior.

Eldon Payne, chief executive officer of Gastronomy Inc., which owns nine restaurants in Utah, said Monday that Gastronomy does not buy seafood from the Gulf Coast region, so his restaurants and customers should not be affected by the oil spill.

"The amount they produce really is consumed in their own marketplace," Payne told the Deseret News. "(As for) a direct impact … there's not going to be anything that we can't get."

He said most of the seafood his restaurants serve comes from the Pacific Northwest, the South Pacific and northern Atlantic regions.

Payne said while there may be some regional impact, there probably will not be any lasting effects nationally in the short or long term.

But an executive with another local restaurant chain told the Deseret News his seafood location could be affected.

"I believe we're going to see something, (but) we haven't yet," said Alan Grinnell, brand manager for Sizzling Platter Inc. The company runs several local restaurants, including Hoppers Seafood & Grill in Midvale.

He said the product likely to be most affected is shellfish sold on the open market that comes from the Gulf Coast region. However, he said his company has no intention of increasing prices even if the cost does happen to rise in the short term.

"Considering all the things that have happened with the economy, we've tried to diversify our menu," Grinnell said. "The absolute last resort would be to raise prices … and so far, we haven't had to raise prices. Hopefully, we got our menus diversified enough that we'll be OK."

As for overall economic impact, although a total shutdown of the shipping lanes is unlikely, there could be long delays if vessels are forced to wait to have their oil-coated hulls power-washed to avoid contaminating the Mississippi.

Some cargo ships might choose to unload somewhere else in the U.S. That could drive up costs.

The latest satellite image of the slick, taken Sunday night, indicates that it has actually shrunk since last week, but that only means some of the oil has gone underwater.

The new image found oil covering about 2,000 square miles, rather than the roughly 3,400 square miles observed last Thursday, said Hans Graber of the University of Miami.

The new image also shows that sizable patches have broken away and are moving to the north and east, Graber said. But it's not clear when any sizable amount of oil will reach land, because that depends on local currents and what the weather will do over the next few days.

Crews have been struggling to stop the more than 200,000 gallons a day spewing from the sea after an offshore drilling platform blew up and sank last month in a disaster that killed 11 workers. The accident is the worst U.S. oil spill since the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska, leaking nearly 11 million gallons of crude.

Contributing: Jasen Lee, Deseret News