One Year After Tragic Oil Spill, Gulf Coast Still In Turmoil
Here at Care2, we are excited to celebrate Earth Day on April 22. To extend the celebrations, we are calling this Earth Week, and you’ll find more blogs in honor of Mother Earth every day this week. Enjoy!
On April 20, 2010, the intense pressure from crude oil and natural gas below and impatient oil company officials above cause a deepwater drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico to explode and eventually sink.
The disaster cost the lives of 11 oil rig workers, and the subsequent oil spill, which released over 4.9 million barrels of oil into the ocean for over 80 days, is still claiming the lives of marine animals and livelihoods of Gulf Coast residents this very minute.
A year later, the sordid details of the BP oil spill have vanished from the headlines, but the oil and the carcases of marine life that came into contact with it are still washing up on Gulf Coast beaches.
“As far as we know, roughly half of the oil that gushed into the Gulf is still there,” said Jackie Savits, Senior Scientist and Senior Campaign Director for Oceana. “It has been dispersed, dissolved and diluted, but that doesn’t necessarily mean its safe for marine life. We are still seeing dead dolphins washing ashore, as well as fish and crabs with signs of oil-related stress. The truth is there is no way to ‘see’ the full effects of the spill or to determine when they end. For some species, the oil could affect many generations, and we may never know the full effects.”
Government counts of wildlife harmed by the spill include 1,146 sea turtles, 128 dolphins and whales, and 8,209 birds from 102 species. Since these counts were tabulated, media reports indicate at least 87 dead turtles have washed ashore and 390 more dolphins and whales have been stranded (ENN).
Scientists estimate that at least five times as many turtles and 50 times as many marine mammals are killed as wash ashore.
The federal government has reported the number of dead animals collected up to mid-February, but is not adding animals washing ashore this spring to the official tally because of ongoing criminal and civil investigations of the spill’s effects.
On August 18th, a team from Georgia Sea Grant and the University of Georgia released a report that estimated 70-79 per cent of the oil that gushed from the well “has not been recovered and remains a threat to the ecosystem”. More recent studies estimate that figure could be closer to 90 percent (Aljazeera).
In an attempt to “clean up” the mess, BP sprayed nearly approximately 771,000 gallons of a toxic chemical dispersant called Corexit 9500A–an act that was forbidden by the EPA, but continued for weeks.
Despite claims that the chemical dispersants BP sprayed all over the Gulf would help break down crude oil and eventually degrade in the water, a study released earlier this year suggests that the spill hung around for months after the well was capped.
Another byproduct of the spill was roughly 200,000 metric tons of methane gas. In June 2010 there was as much as 100,000 times as much methane dissolved gas in the gulf as normal. Scientists worried that it could remain dissolved in the water column, depleting oxygen levels, for years (NYT).
In the 12 months since the spill, scores of Gulf residents, fishermen, and clean-up workers have demonstrated serious health complications, and many blame the chemicals from BP’s oil and dispersants.
During the most agressive phases of the clean-up, it was reported that BP refused to provide clean-up workers with repirators because wearing them would create a bad “visual.” It’s was also reported that BP has threatened to fire workers that try to wear their own respirators.
Many health experts fear that it will be the invisible scars of clean-up work that cause the most damage for workers and their families.
“There are very well-documented psychological effects from oil spills both in clean up workers and residents,” said Dr. Gina Solomon, an Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine and Senior Scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The mental health issues need to be taken more seriously. Also, because of the fact that some chemicals can damage DNA, there’s real concern for women who were pregnant during the spill and reproductive outcomes.”
Because shrimp and other crustaceans can be exposed directly to oil and can absorb oil contaminants through contaminated plants and animal material that they may consume, the BP oil spill wreaked havoc with the Gulf Coast’s seafood industry.
Industry experts say that fishing bans during May and June caused the 2010 seafood catch to decline by over 50 percent. Even after the government reopened the areas to commercial fishing, reports of crude oil in oysters, shrimp and fish caused many people to abandon these delicacies for safer alternatives.
In a recent GNO Inc. survey of national restaurants, half of all customers had unfavorable views of Gulf seafood, despite government assurances (CBS).
There’s no denying that the Gulf oil spill was the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. When surveying what has and has not been accomplished in the 12 months since the spill, it’s the unwillingess of politicians and oil industry leaders to admit that offshore drilling is and will always be unsafe that is the most disappointing result.
Despite a short ban on offshore drilling during the height of the crisis, oil companies have continued business as usual with the government’s blessing.
BP even has plans to restart deepwater drilling on 10 wells in the Gulf of Mexico this summer after being granted permission by US regulators.
It seems unbelieveable that they would once again engage in this risky behavior before they’ve even begun to repay the damage they’ve caused, yet they have the endorsement of many who refuse to believe that renewable energy is the best path for the future.
Yet, despite the sadness of this anniversary, all is not lost.
No matter how small we may feel in the face of opposing forces,we must continue to sound the alarm.
No matter how many people laugh at the notion that solar, wind, and geothermal energy are capable of powering our world, we must continue to educate and evangelize the public about the end of oil.
No matter how the media ignores the ongoing reports of death and devastation in the Gulf, we must continue to tell these stories and take these pictures.
We must speak for the animals who have no voice, and take action for the unborn generations whose future depends on the decisions we make today. They are our only hope.
Image: Controlled surface burn.
Credit: Flickr - deepwaterhorizonresponse