The Ghost In The Water

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.

Deepwater Horizon And Marine Life

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.

BP Macondo Well Leaking Again?

Man Of War In Oil Slick
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.

Calling Jacques Cousteau

With BP oil flooding the Gulf of Mexico, and young Cousteaus flooding the cable news airwaves, I was glad to see Wired honoring Jacques’ one hundredth birthday anniversary with a mini-video retrospective.

Cousteau opened up the undersea world to generations of otherwise indifferent humans. And the degree of outrage we see today over BP is in no small part thanks to the awareness of the beauty and magnificence of the universe that exists beneath the surface of our oceans.

I wonder what Jacques would be doing and saying if he were still alive today?
Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Jacques Cousteau: The Fathoms Deep“, posted with vodpod
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The Power Of Video Is Turned On BP’s Tony Hayward

If you had any doubts about the mismatch between BP CEO Tony Hayward‘s words and the reality of what is going on in the Gulf Of Mexico, the NRDC has made this video to set you straight. Sure, it uses pictures, music and words to crucify the guy. But doesn’t he, along with BP, deserve it?

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World Oceans Day Blues (Save Me Roz Savage!)

Plastic Ocean
Image by Kevin Krejci via Flickr

Today is World Oceans Day. The right thing to do, I suppose, would be to write my own World Ocean’s Day post. But to be honest, I feel like devoting one annual day to Earth Day, or Oceans Day, is a pretty pathetic response to the magnitude of the damage our little comfort and consumer-obsessed species is doing to both the wet and dry parts of the planet every single day. So if an annual day makes anyone feel like they are somehow absolved from all their usual ocean-killing habits and priorities–because they gave up fish for lunch, or sent out a tweet–and no one really changes their behavior in a big way, then it is sort of pointless, isn’t it?

Every day should be Oceans Day, if you think about it, because it is our everyday actions that are the problem. And if we could somehow manage to think about the consequences of those actions every day, then that would be something revolutionary. But most people don’t. They acknowledge Oceans Day for a day (if that) and move on. And then when BP blows out a deepwater well and pumps an unimaginable amount of oil into one of he world’s most valuable and fragile ecosystems there is a paroxysm of anger and complaint.

But that outcry would only be exceeded by the blowback and outrage we would hear if, say, President Obama and Congress moved forward on a real carbon tax, or simply asked the nation to stop air conditioning its homes and offices at near-frigid temps in the summer, and tropical highs in the winter.

Gulf-Oiled-Pelicans-June-3-2010
Image by IBRRC via Flickr

Our collective and cultural awareness, and willingness to make sacrifices in response, is just completely, completely out of synch with the actual demands of the problem.

Whew. That’s depressing, which is another reason I thought it best not to write about World Oceans Day (though somehow I just have).

Anyhow, what I intended was to let Roz Savage (who is not a dismal, Wetass-class, pessimist, and is, instead, a fantastic, ocean-rowing, phenomenon) tell you about World Oceans Day, because I liked her blend of urgency and hope that it is not too late to act.

Until this year, I felt uncomfortable when people tried to label me as an “advocate for the oceans”. It wasn’t a label I had chosen, and I felt it didn’t fit me. The Atlantic Ocean beat me up pretty badly in 2005-6, and I was still bearing a grudge. My relationship with the ocean could best be described as ambivalent. I regarded her as a tough taskmaster, who occasionally tried to kill me. Not the best basis for a happy relationship.

But this year two things have happened that have softened my attitude towards the vast blue bits of our planet.

First, there was TED Mission Blue. For two days I received a concentrated dose of all the bad news that I had heard about the oceans over the last few years, and it shocked me.

– There is a 6:1 ratio of plastic to plankton in the ocean. This cannot be good.

Consuming blue fin tuna is like barbecuing pandas.

Ocean plants produce half of the world’s oxygen.

In 40 years, seafood could be a thing of the past.

Ocean acidification is seriously affecting its ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.

Sure, I already knew about plastic pollution, collapsing fish stocks, ocean acidification, dead zones and coastal habitat destruction. But like so many environmental messages, the drip-drip-drip of bad news hadn’t really hit me with the sense of urgency that I got at TED. Here were world-respected experts telling us that we need to take urgent action before the oceans are too damaged to recover.

Given that the oceans cover 70% of our planet, it suddenly made sense to me that if our oceans are in trouble, then so are we.

I know, I know. She sounds just like me. But she ends with this:

So on this Oceans Day, even if you have never spent a day at sea in your life, I beg you to do a blue deed for the day. Do something to help. Join an ocean conservation organisation. Make a donation. Post a tweet. Just do something. And then tell us about it at http://ecoheroes.me. Log a “water” deed and tell us what you did.

The ocean thanks you. And so do I.

I do too, particularly if you resolve to log a “water deed” every day of the year. Now that would start making a real difference. And if that’s what you are ready for, then this day, and this post, won’t have been a waste at all. And if you want to join a community of citizens who are taking action on the oceans, then Oceana is an excellent place to start.

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We Are All Gulf Residents

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.

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The BP Blowout Is A Picture Story

How this tragedy happened and what should be done will consume almost as much ink as oil spilled, but the most visceral and powerful way into this story is through pictures. I’ve been following ProPublica’s reporting, but I highly recommend their constantly updated slideshow. They have collected some spectacular images.


(Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images via ProPublica)

And if you want to get a bit Google Earth-y, check this page out, which allows you to track the spill by satellite, as well as compare its size to major US cities.

This picture, from the Boston Globe, is heartbreaking.


(Photo: AP via Boston Globe)

I hope these images don’t fade from anyone’s memory too quickly.