A powerful look at how Gulf Coast communities are struggling to deal with the aftermath of the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout, and the oil–the “ghost in the water”–which continues to haunt their lives.
The nation’s attention and the media spotlight have moved on. But the hidden costs of this inevitable unintended consequence or our reliance on oil will keep piling up for decades. This is just part of the real price of oil and gas, the price that no political leader is willing to admit or apply at the pump.
It could be years before we know the full impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the marine life of the Gulf Of Mexico. But an initial study is pretty devastating:
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened in the Gulf of Mexico nearly three years ago, but the estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil that it released are still killing dolphins, sea turtles and other marine life in record numbers, according to new research.
The report, “Restoring a Degraded Gulf of Mexico: Wildlife and Wetlands Three Years into the Gulf Oil Disaster,” found that dolphins were among the hardest hit animals. As of just earlier this year, infant dolphins were dying six times faster than they did before the spill. Scientists aren’t even yet sure of the extent of the massive spill, given that it was impossible to fully clean up the chemical-laden, carcinogenic oil.
“Three years after the initial explosion, the impacts of the disaster continue to unfold,” Doug Inkley, senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation and lead author of the report, said in a press release. “Dolphins are still dying in high numbers in the areas affected by oil. These ongoing deaths — particularly in an apex predator like the dolphin — are a strong indication that there is something amiss with the Gulf ecosystem.”
Here are some of the key findings:
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) called the dolphin die-off “unprecedented” a year ago.
- More than 1,700 sea turtles were found stranded between May 2010 and November 2012 — the last date for which information is available. For comparison, on average about 240 sea turtles are stranded annually.
- A coral colony seven miles from the wellhead was badly damaged by oil. A recent laboratory study found that a mixture of oil and dispersant affected the ability of some coral species to build new parts of a reef.
- Scientists found that the oil disaster affected the cellular function of the killifish, a common baitfish at the base of the food web. A recent laboratory study found that oil exposure can also harm the development of larger fish such as mahi mahi.
The BP spill is one of the most dramatic and damaging reminders in recent history of one of the major external costs (pollution) attached to reliance on oil, and we’ve seen plenty of indications that dolphins are paying a price. I don’t think you can ever create a system of production and use that would eliminate pollution (or health costs; and greenhouse warming is permanently embedded in oil use). But if you price oil to include these costs you can reduce the amount of oil we use, and reduce the external costs. Yes, there is a gas tax to help pay for roads and highways, but that tax doesn’t even pretend to help cover health and pollution costs. And a carbon tax would need to be perhaps $80 a ton (which would add about 80 cents to a gallon of gas) to really start addressing the impact of oil and carbon on the climate.
Carol Guzy/THE WASHINGTON POST – Oil surrounds a surfacing Portuguese man-of-war in the waters near South Pass, La. The Deepwater Horizon spill has taken an emotional toll on many people, with some describing the damage in the Gulf of Mexico as a “sacred loss” of fragile environments and endangered species.
Uh-oh. This isn’t good. From the Washington Post:
The oil in a slick detected in the Gulf of Mexico last month matched oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill two years ago, the Coast Guard said Wednesday night, ending one mystery and creating another.
“The exact source of the oil is unclear at this time but could be residual oil associated with the wreckage or debris left on the seabed from the Deepwater Horizon incident,” the Coast Guard said.
The Coast Guard added that “the sheen is not feasible to recover and does not pose a risk to the shoreline.” One government expert said the thin sheen, just microns thick, was 3 miles by 300 yards on Wednesday.
Some oil drilling experts said it was unlikely that BP’s Macondo well, which suffered a blowout on April 20, 2010, was leaking again given the extra precautions taken when it was finally sealed after spilling nearly 5 million barrels of crude into the gulf.
BP declined to comment. But a BP internal slide presentation said the new oil sheen probably came from the riser, a long piece of pipe that had connected the drilling rig to the well a mile below the sea surface.
The presentation said that “the size and persistence of this slick, the persistent location of the oil slick origin point, the chemistry of the samples taken from the slick … suggest that the likely source of the slick is a leak of Macondo … oil mixed with drilling mud that had been trapped in the riser of the Deepwater Horizon rig.”
It’s hard to feel confident that we will ever really understand the true impact of the Deepwater Horizon blowout.
Just because you don’t live on the Gulf Coast or the Florida panhandle don’t assume you won’t be wading in some tar balls this summer at your favorite beach. The National Center For Atmospheric research has created an animation that shows how ocean currents may disperse the BP Blob. It ain’t pretty.