Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Oil Wrongs

photo: wake of a ship through the oil in the Gulf of Mexico

As BP's chief said on Tuesday that the environmental impact of the oil gush is likely to be "very, very modest," and the company whose faulty equipment, shoddy procedures and fraud caused the explosion was busy dividing up more than a billion dollars in dividends, the New York Times reported: "A thin stem of oil stretching east from BP PLC's spill is increasingly likely to enter the Loop Current, a powerful Gulf of Mexico flow that runs past the Florida Keys and up the Atlantic Seaboard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief said today."

Once oil is in the current, it would likely reach the Florida Keys within 10 days. By month's end, the oil could reach Miami, oceanographers have also warned...Any oil or dispersants pulled south to the Florida Straits could pose an environmental hazard, especially for coral reefs, said Nan Walker, the director of the Earth Scan Laboratory at Louisiana State University. "The dispersants could kill corals," Walker said earlier this month.'

According to a TIME Magazine report:

" Federal officials have also raised alarms about the damage that has already been done to turtles, sea birds and marine mammals. And in response to concerns about the impact on undersea species, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Tuesday expanded the no-fishing zone; nearly one-fifth of the Gulf, more than 47,000 sq. miles, is now off limits for fishing. Far from having a "very, very modest" effect, the Gulf oil spill will linger for a very long time. "Make no mistake," said Rowan Gould, the acting director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "This spill is sufficient to affect wildlife in the Gulf and across the region for years and perhaps decades."

A Reuters' roundup adds: "In a sign of the widening environmental impact, the United States nearly doubled a no-fishing zone in waters seen affected by the oil gushing from the blown well, extending it to 19 percent of U.S. waters in the Gulf." There were reports of oil reaching beaches and marshes.

In Washington, President Obama has called for an independent commission to investigate the situation, several Senators are requesting that the Justice Department open civil and criminal probes, the Secretary of Interior has promised reforms of the responsible regulatory agency, and Senate Republicans are blocking legislation to increase the cap on oil company liability for the effects of their actions.

Meanwhile, this Houston Chronicle article articulates more of the concern expressed in my last post on this subject: "The oil has not yet caused a visible catastrophe — so far only 23 oiled birds have been found dead — but there is increasing concern about the array of life below the Gulf of Mexico's surface, too deep to watch closely. “What concerns us the most is what we can't see,” said Rowan Gould, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's acting director."

A couple of other interesting links: This piece by Douglas Brinkley about the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, one of the places threatened by the oil and chemicals, and this very adept primer, ostensibly for reporters but also a great consumer guide, on the realities and misinformation (or truth and lies) involved in the "Gulf oil geyser," by Mark Sumner, coming out from behind his Kos screenname of Devilstower, which I assume makes him more employable as a science writer elsewhere. He should be--he knows his stuff.

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