Attempts to Stop Gulf Spill Could Make It Worse

“There’s a dead dolphin on this beach,” Mother Jones’ Mac McClelland, wrote yesterday in Louisiana. It’s one snapshot of the harm visited on the Gulf Coast by the BP oil spill. Back in Washington, the Senate climate bill, which would put the country on a path to cleaner energy consumption, is on its last legs.

You’d think that after a seemingly unstoppable oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (official estimates are up to 50,000 barrels a day, as of yesterday) and the hottest spring on record (hello, climate change!), U.S. citizens and elected representatives would recognize that our country’s thirst for resources has consequences.

It’s not just that oil is spilling into the Gulf, even after BP hit on a fix. Besides the blow-out that has dominated headlines, another, more routine spill showed up near the Louisiana coast. The Deepwater Horizon spill is now the larger of two spills in the Gulf Coast, according to Care2. A week ago in Pennsylvania, a natural gas well owned by EOG Resources (formerly Enron) shot a geyser of chemical-laced water 75 feet into the air; and on Monday, in West Virginia, another natural gas well, this one owned by Chief Oil and Natural Gas, also exploded, as AlterNet reports.

Yet BP is still supplying the Pentagon with oil and gas, as Jeremy Scahill writes at The Nation. Senators are still supporting natural gas exploration and off-shore oil drilling. The White House has also abandoned any intention of pushing for strong legislation that would push for better, cleaner energy.

Lifestyle vs. lives

Americans aren’t willing to give up their lifestyle, so wild animals are giving up their lives. One casualty of the BP spill in the Gulf might be bluefin tuna. Their population is 20 percent of what it was 40 years ago, Inter Press Service reports. Although the effects of the oil spill won’t be entirely clear for a few years, scientists are worried.

“Biologically, bluefin are already unlucky,” IPS writes. “The fish — which can be as long as and faster than a sports car — only spawn once a year and only in certain locations.”

Schools of the tuna, IPS reports, are headed now towards the Gulf of Mexico.

“The spill has been going on during their peak spawning period in the only place the western population spawns, so in timing and location it’s probably the worst place you could have it and during the worst time,” Lee Crocket, director of federal fisheries policy at Pew Environment, told IPS.

All the creatures of the sea

It’s not just tuna that are at risk, either. Mother Jones’ Julia Whitty has been documenting the fate of birds, fish, and other sea creatures that come into contact with the oil in the Gulf. She visited Elmer’s Island, LA, and snapped a shot of one of the dead jelly fish that had washed up on the shore:

“There were dead Portuguese man o’war jellies — one of the few species that weather the travails of the dead zone that afflicts these waters each summer. The dead zone is an area around the outflow of the Mississippi River made hypoxic by too many nutrients flowing downstream, mostly from farms and ranches. If you’re a jellyfish, a dead zone is survivable. Apparently an oiled zone is not.”

BP’s shroud of secrecy

BP has been remarkably cagey with the public about what’s going on in the Gulf. In addition to keeping reporters away from soiled area, the company hasn’t shown much interest in understanding exactly how much oil it’s spilling into the ocean. Initial estimates of 1,000 barrels per day have blossomed into estimates, on the low end, of 25,000 barrels. On Democracy Now!, scientist Ira Leifer said that the company is being more forthcoming with information now than it was originally. But he’d like a fuller picture:

“What there really should be at these kind of sites is some acoustic methods, whether it’s sonar or passive listening devices, or other approaches that continuously are monitoring and waiting for something to happen and then would provide a nonstop, steady data stream, so we could actually learn from what happens….These things, they’re not steady states. They belch. They have large eruptions.”

What that means, Leifer said, is that it’s not necessarily accurate to talk about a definitive rate at which the oil is pouring out. In his words, “the flow today is not necessarily the flow tomorrow.” What’s more, the attempts to stop the spill can make it worse. One concern is that the rock surrounding the pipe could “give out,” Leifer says. In that scenario, the oil would not just come from the pipe but from many sites in the surrounding sea bed.

“This reservoir is massive, and it could easily flow that kind of oil for the next twenty or thirty years, if it was left to go unattended,” Leifer said. “So the amount of oil that could end up in the environment if measures are not successful is at what I would call unimaginable.”

Spin, BP, spin

Given that sort of doomsday scenario, it’s not surprising that BP has plans to promise as little as possible to the spill’s victims. As Justin Elliott reports at TPMMuckraker, the company’s plan for oil spills instructs its spokespeople not to promise anything.

BP’s June 2009 Gulf of Mexico Regional Oil Spill Response Plan reads: “No statement shall be made containing … Promises that property, ecology, or anything else will be restored to normal,” Elliott writes.


How to move beyond these horror stories? This week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) completely disowned the climate legislation he was working on before, and both Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum and The Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen bemoaned the climate bill’s fate.

Yesterday, the Senate narrowly defeated an amendment offered by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that would have stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to regulate carbon. Although the amendment failed, support from Democrats like Arkansas’ Blanche Lincoln signals that the support isn’t there for even unambitious climate legislation. And at this juncture, it seems like the U.S. has done more harm than good in the international arena.

Coping with Copenhagen

International leaders are at Bonn this week, trying to pick up the pieces from last November’s climate change negotiations in Copenhagen.

“Copenhagen was a pretty horrible conference,” conceded Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as IPS reports. “This year it’s about restoring trust.”

For the U.S., passing climate legislation would help.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint.

photo credit: thanks to IBRRC via flickr for the sad image of heavily oiled brown pelicans out of the Gulf, waiting to be cleaned
By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger


Winn Adams
Winn A4 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Monique D.
Mon D7 years ago

This is so horrible.

Charles W.
Charles Webb7 years ago

johan l.
paul l7 years ago

Shame on you Pentagon and Senate!
Still allowing BP to supply you with oil and gas?
It is people like that who would blithely allow more off-shore drilling!

Jane L7 years ago

This is BS. Why aren't they using competent assistance, ideas, etc. Really disgusting.

Barb F.
Barb F7 years ago

Lois Kobb, TY, you nailed a huge part of the problem with your comment, I find it appalling that offers of help were refused. I find it appalling and illegal that BP and other gas companies were permitted to bypass using mandatory safety features that were available, they are heartless, egomanical, greed driven idiots.

Lorin S.
Lorin S7 years ago

Good article, and a reminder of how incredibly depressing this situation is.

I'm having an uncomfortable feeling reading stuff like this and watching the news about the oil spill. It's the same feeling I got when I saw films like "Sharkwater" and "The Cove" --movies about how people are so cruel and uncaring in how they deal with sharks and dolphins.

The feeling is that maybe the reprecussions that are coming from how we've dealt with the environment are our rightful comeuppance. Maybe we deserve what we're going to get.

I've long been an environmentalist, and never one of those that thinks the best way to save the planet is to kill all the people. I love people. (I have the urge to say that some of my best friends are people.) I think people are one of the best reasons to be an environmentalist. What is human life without fresh air and blue sky and forests and animals and oceans?

But if we can't do better than this, if companies can't practice their crafts without adequately keeping the environment safe (a paradox in terms of an oil company, but forgive me) than maybe I have to change my thinking and become resolute and resigned to the fact that people and the planet just can't coexist together, and the planet's a lot bigger and more powerful than people are, and maybe the real tragedy in all of it is that we're going to get exactly what we deserve when the planet pushes back against our thoughtlessness.

I hate that feeling. I hope I'm wrong.

Lyn V.
Lyn V7 years ago

I havent used BP for years and lucky for me I dont drink coffee. Please list all the companies under BP umbrella and I wont support them either. Companies like BP only feel IT when in hurts THEIR pockets.

Tekla Drakfrende
Tekla Drakfrende7 years ago

bp messes up more and more

Chris D.
Chris D7 years ago

If they were actually trying to stop the leak they would have already done so. They are recovering oil first, stopping the leak is a distant second priority. THEY DON"T CARE ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT OR THE FUTURE. How many BP exec's are under fifty? I am betting very few if any. What does a 55 year old Oil Executive care about sustainability while flying to a board meeting in a G5? They are cutting dividends to shareholders. Are they cutting salaries for the top execs? Not Bloody Likely!