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What Do We Have To Worry About With The Gulf Oil Spill?

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On: Mon, May 24, 2010 at 6:57PM | By: Lee Clymer

The ramifications of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill aren’t even beginning to show as over 5000 barrels pour into the water every day. It has spread dramatically as weather and possibly a higher flow rate combined to create what will surpass (and probably not look back) the Exxon Valdez; the full extent of the damage can only be conjectured. Even as far back as May 1st the Coast Guard stated it was nearly impossible to figure out the quantity of oil released in just the ten days since April 20th. At the 5000-barrels-a-day rate, obviously that figure would be around 150,000 barrels by mid-May.

 The blame game started in earnest May 2nd, but Lamar McKay appeared before Congress on the 11th, and might as well have bathed in the Gulf’s waters, as slippery as he was. I’m sure he could may make a great politician some day, as he said a lot while saying nothing.

He has blamed the equipment, the rig, and Transocean who is leasing the rig out, but has not taken any blame for BP, although their Texas City rig explosion was pretty much blamed on cutting safety corners to save a buck. Meanwhile, as he dodged questions, one of the world’s most productive fishing grounds has been set up for the kill, literally.

When BP filed to drill there, they stated to the Minerals Management Service, “An accident oil spill…could cause impacts to the beaches. However, due to the distance to the shore (48 miles), and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no significant adverse affects are expected.” (BP initial exploration plans - Feb. 2009). In that report they also stated “…BP exploration and Production, Inc. has the capability to respond, to the maximum extent practicable, to a worst case discharge…” Also in that same document that discharge rate was noted as an uncontrolled volume of 300,000 gallons (7142 barrels) per day. I find it a bit disconcerting that they haven’t been able to respond adequately, and the volume is estimated to be about two-thirds of that number.

Whether BP is culpable or not, it is patently obvious their response capabilities are not as extensive as they proposed. Even McKay stated it has become an industry problem with an industry-wide response needed. They all know this isn’t a problem just for BP, but a political problem for the all oil companies.

So how does all this affect us? One of the concerns is BP’s use of dispersants. The dispersants break up the oil, as the name would imply, and send the oil through the water in smaller droplets. Although that sounds like a great idea at first blush, it leaves the oil in the water longer causing more harm. In an ecological sense it simply camouflages the oil in many ways, but in the long run it sure won’t camouflage the damage. Second, the oil winds up on the seabed where it really starts its damage.

Corexit 9500 and Corexit EC9527A, which BP is using, are known by toxicology experts as “deodorized kerosene.” The National Academy of Sciences was pretty clear about the use of these chemicals in their statement about dispersants representing, “a conscious decision to increase the hydrocarbon load (resulting from a spill) on one component of the ecosystem (e.g., the water column) while reducing the load on another (e.g., coastal wetland).”

This is another seemingly good decision at first blush since the wetlands are the source of most of the nesting grounds for hundreds of species, and they act as a huge filtration system for water entering to the ocean. The wetlands throughout the world appear to provide endless benefits to mankind, and, of course, oil pollution would devastate that portion of the ecosystem.

The unseen problem comes from the dispersant sinking to the bottom. Fish and other organisms mistakenly think it’s food, and then very long-term effects begin as the poison moves through the food chain. The effects become more devastating and very long lasting, yet subtle. Theoretically, we will be seeing, without visibly seeing the oil, the effects of this for generations.

The wreckage to the wildlife will clearly cause a shortage of seafood. By some counts 75 per cent of our shrimp from the area will be lost. Certainly that will put a much larger demand on other areas, which will obviously strain them. Oysters, crabs, and shrimp will all be affected, but the shrimp will take it on the chin. As we, the people who fish know, shrimp is a great bait. With that in mind, think what it will do to the rest of the fishery.

On a different note of sorts, we all know this will affect fuel prices. As the fishery dwindles it will take more fuel to find the fish that are left.

One thing for sure though, the effects will be far-reaching and long-standing. The damage may only barely fit within our imagination since a lot of us will be long gone before the true effects may be known.


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