As a resident of Louisiana, I'm so sick about this oil spill that I can’t even begin to tell you.
BP is still sticking to its initial “guesstimate” that approximately 5,000 barrels a day of oil are spewing forth into the Gulf, despite numerous reports saying that the real amount of oil being released is more likely in the range of 56,000-80,000 barrels per day. Even if you go with the lower estimate of 56K barrels a day, that means more than 2.3 MILLION gallons. A day.
BP’s CEO, Tony Hayward, has had the gall to try to downplay the damage being caused to the Gulf. "The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume," Hayward said.
But thanks to the “hot tap,” the smaller pipe that BP has shoved into the gaping pipe that is hemorrhaging oil, we’re saved, right? BP is proudly reporting today that the “hot tap” is now siphoning off 5,000 barrels of oil per day. However, as BP has maintained all along that only 5,000 gallons of oil a day have been leaking, and significant quantities of oil are STILL gushing out, this puts them in a bit of a quandary. You can watch a live feed of the oil leak here.
The situation just keeps getting worse. On Sunday, we learned that there are now gigantic underwater oil plumes in the Gulf, as large as three miles wide by 10 miles long, which were most likely caused by the dispersants that are being pumped into the oil at the site of the well. Do you get the feeling that it’s much better for BP if the oil is forming into giant slicks underneath the surface of the ocean? Out of sight, out of mind, right? And again, BP doesn’t want us to have any concrete estimate of the actual amount of oil being released, as shown in my favorite excerpt from the New York Times story:
BP has resisted entreaties from scientists that they be allowed to use sophisticated instruments at the ocean floor that would give a far more accurate picture of how much oil is really gushing from the well.
‘The answer is no to that,’ a BP spokesman, Tom Mueller, said. ‘We’re not going to take any extra efforts now to calculate flow there at this point. It’s not relevant to the response effort, and it might even detract from the response effort.’
The sheer arrogance—refusing to allow scientists to more accurately measure the amount of oil actually being released into the Gulf because it’s not relevant? Not relevant to what? To BP’s public relations efforts? Might it not be relevant to know how big of a problem we’re actually dealing with?
And then let’s talk about the dispersants, shall we? Even though there is a dispersant called Dispersit that has been proven by the EPA to disperse 100 percent of south Louisiana crude oil and has also shown to have much lower levels of toxicity, BP is using a dispersant called Corexit, which has only been shown to disperse 55-63 percent of Louisiana crude. So why are we using a less effective dispersant? Let’s take a look at who’s on the board of directors of Nalco, the makers of Corexit:
In 1994, Nalco and Exxon's chemical division, Exxon Chemical Company, formed a joint venture focusing on oil and gas products like the dispersants in use in the Gulf. Daniel Sanders, and a vice president, Steve Taylor, both came from Exxon. Another Nalco board member, Rodney Chase, worked for BP for 38 years. In an interview, Nalco spokesman Charles Pajor says that former oil industry officials are ‘not by any means a majority’ of the company’s corporate leadership. Nevertheless, the cleanup effort has been good business for Nalco: the company has reported that it expects to sell $40 million worth of dispersants by the end of this week.
More than 600,000 gallons of Corexit have been released in the Gulf so far. Did I also mention that Corexit has been banned in the UK, BP’s home country, for over ten years? Have I mentioned that Corexit is toxic? I hate to quote almost an entire article, but this drives home the point better than I can:
But environmental experts have warned that Corexit could add to the ecological disaster in the Gulf rather than alleviate it. Oil companies designed the dispersants to reduce the amount of oil hitting land. That may spare BP the PR nightmare of oil-coated birds washing up on Louisiana’s shorelines. However, as scientists such as marine toxicologist Dr. Riki Ott point out, BP's chosen dispersants will simply push the problem underwater. The chemicals, says Ott, have ‘the potential to cause intergenerational harm’ to marine life. Corexit has been banned in the United Kingdom due to environmental concerns.
‘[Oil companies] want to make the visible part of the oil spill disappear—for political reasons, for limiting liability to the spillers,’ says Richard Charter, government relations consultant for Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund. ‘If we were looking at food chain impacts and biomagnification in the marine ecosystem, we probably never would have invented Corexit.’
Simply push the problem underwater. Could that result in an underwater plume that’s ten miles long and three miles wide? Could that plume result in intergenerational harm to marine life?
The only good news I’ve seen thus far is that according to the Washington Post, the EPA is scheduled to announce today that it will demand that BP begin use of an alternate, less-toxic dispersant within 72 hours.
Dead animals are washing up on shore. 162 sea turtles have been found dead so far. About a dozen dolphins have died so far. Over 20 oiled birds are dead so far.
And finally, we have the weeks it has taken to come up with a viable option, an option other than waiting the 90 days necessary to drill a relief well, to finally stop the flow of oil. We’re still waiting, on day thirty. And the oil is here.
Many, many options have been discussed regarding how to prevent the oil that’s already been released from damaging the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi. As you may or may not know, the booms are not working—they can’t handle any wave action higher than three feet. And the booms are currently being used—in the ocean—to try to prevent oil from getting onto the coast. As I’m sure you know, the waves in the ocean frequently exceed three feet. Additionally, thanks to the underwater dispersants, which have resulted in the plumes, the oil can now travel under the booms to the coast.
So far, 24 miles of Louisiana wetlands have been impacted. Oil has made its way into the Bay of St. Louis on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. And still we wait, for someone to do something.
Just as we did five years ago, the people of the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast are watching a storm come ashore, a storm that could affect the lives and the livelihoods of people in this area for generations to come. And just as we felt during Hurricane Katrina and the resultant levee failures in New Orleans, we are becoming increasingly frustrated that viable help has not yet arrived. Louisiana produces more than 30% of the oil and natural gas used by the entire nation. But the state of Louisiana is paying the cost and is currently losing its wetlands at the rate of one football field every 38 minutes.
As Rachel Maddow stated weeks ago, “America has a choice to make about the State of Louisiana. Is Louisiana part of our country or isn't it? Because if Louisiana is part of America, then the American people and the American government have to begin to defend Louisiana…..”