Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Still Waters Wednesday: May 19 BP Oil Spill Report

"Pensacola Beach has rarely looked cleaner or more inviting."


1. Still Waters on Pensacola Beach.

A reader was wondering early this morning if the Internet web cam images of Pensacola Beach were showing an oily sheen. The simple answer is "no."

What is visible is one of those glorious beach days when the sun is shining, the wind has died, the sand is blindingly white, the surf is so calm you can see it reflect birds as they fly overhead, and a small pod of dolphins lazily gambols above the underwater sand bar offshore, feeding off a school of mullet (click here or photo, left). The still waters are running clean.

There is, as yet, no sign of oil on Pensacola Beach. Quite the opposite: Pensacola Beach has rarely looked cleaner or more inviting. The reason is, no one is here. The beach is weirdly empty. Tourists have, with few exceptions, simply fled.

The operator of the sand cleaning machine, a standard fixture on the beach as early morning beach walkers know (click here or on photo, above), told us this morning he hasn't even found much of the usual Thoughtless Tourist Trash -- cigarette butts, plastic cups, beer cans, etc.

"It's almost empty," he complained, pointing at the collection hopper (photo insert, above). "Not much trash 'cause nobody's here. And I've just finished a run down the entire beach."

2. The Oil Straw.

The new BP videos released yesterday by senators Bill Nelson and Barbara Boxer have raised public apprehension over the amount of oil that continues pouring into the Gulf. They also should have thoroughly killed whatever faith the public and our elected officials still may have invested in the credibility of BP executives. As the old sarcasm would have it, 'Who you gonna believe, the suits at BP or your own lyin' eyes?

One more thing the videos have done: reawaken concern over the injection of a secret chemical mix generically known as "dispersants" at the point of the leak. Distributing dispersants at this depth and with a leak this size is an untested palliative with unknown consequences for the environment, sea life, and human health. The one thing we do know is the dispersants don't destroy the oil; they merely break it up into smaller molecules that likely will behave, chemically and physically, in different ways.

3. What Lies Beneath: Dispersants Damage

A couple of days ago Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post published an article whose importance cannot be over emphasized. ["Oil Spill Imperils an Unseen World at the Bottom of the Gulf".] In it, he warns that the larger threat of the BP oil disaster is not what we see, but what lies beneath, hidden in the deep:

Fan corals, lacylike doilies, form gardens on the seafloor and on sunken ships. The deep is full of crabs, sponges, sea anemones. Sharks hunt in the dark depths, as do sperm whales that feed on giant squid. The sperm whales have formed a year-round colony near the mouth of the Mississippi River, and have been known to rub themselves on oil pipes just like grizzlies rubbing against pine trees.

This is the unseen world imperiled by the uncapped oil well a mile below the surface of the gulf. The millions of gallons of crude, and the introduction of chemicals to disperse it, have thrown this underwater ecosystem into chaos, and scientists have no answer to the question of how this unintended and uncontrolled experiment in marine biology and chemistry will ultimately play out.
* * *
The well is surrounded by a complex ecosystem that only in recent years has been explored by scientists. Between the uncapped well and the surface is a mile of water that riots with life, and now contains a vast cloud of oil, gas and chemical dispersants and long, dense columns of clotted crude.
* * *
More is known about the surface of the moon than about the world at the bottom of the sea.
* * *
The depths of the gulf are also a potential answer to a question that has been in the air for weeks now: Where, exactly, has all the oil gone? A partial explanation is that the slick has been bombed with more than half a million gallons of the chemical dispersant Corexit 9500, made by Nalco. More dispersants have been applied at depth, directly on the main leak. Much of the oil sinks to the bottom.

"If you apply the dispersants to the source of the oil down there, you are completely hiding the problem," said Kert Davies, research director for Greenpeace. "It looks like it's gone away, but there is no 'away' in the ocean. It's like sweeping it under the rug."
4. Banned in Britain.

ProPublica today adds this (with supporting links, to its great credit) to the dispersants debate:
  • "The two types of dispersants BP is spraying in the Gulf are banned for use on oil spills in the U.K."
  • "[T]wo products" from BP's "Corexit" line of dispersants are "more toxic and less effective in handling southern Louisiana crude than those made by competitors.
  • Equally chilling, "Corexit was also used after the Exxon Valdez disaster and was later linked with human health problems including respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney and blood disorders."
  • One of the two Corexit products also contains a compound that, in high doses, is associated with headaches, vomiting and reproductive problems.
The inescapable truth is that no one knows for sure what BP may be doing to the entire chain of life in the Gulf of Mexico as it applies its favored dispersants at the source of the oil gusher. As NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco told PBS' News Hour Monday, both oil and dispersants are toxic to sea life. NOAA decided to approve BP's use of dispersants only because they are considered "less of an evil" than oil.

But one is left to wonder, just how can she know it's a "lesser" evil when the effects of dispersants applied at the depth of BP's oil gusher have never been studied or tested?

5. Keys Tarballs Not from BP.

Those twenty-five tarballs found at a state park yesterday are not from the BP oil spill, the U.S. Coast Guard is saying. The tarballs were sent for analysis to "US Coast Guard Marine Safety Laboratory in New London, Connecticut."

According to the commanding officer of the coast guard's Key West sector, " these tar balls are not from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill incident."

5. Oil Slick Coming to Florida Keys, Nevertheless.

Not to worry. The Florida Keys will be seeing the BP river of oil soon, anyway.

According to computer models developed by the University of South Florida's College of Marine Science, the Florida Loop will be transporting it to beaches in the Keys "in the next eight to 10 days," reports Christine Stapleton of the Palm Beach Post.

A Post artist, working from the USF models, has prepared a graphic showing the expected route of the oil. (Click here or on graphic, left.) It's a little cartoonish for scientists, no doubt, but it does dramatically illustrate how far, and how quickly, the oil may reach:

Scientists and researchers said Monday that their data showed oil was sucked into the Gulf Loop over the weekend. On Tuesday scientists at the University of South Florida released trajectories based on five models.

"All the five model trajectory forecasts … show that this southern part of the oil slick will be transported along with the Loop Current," according to the University of South Florida oceanographers. "Our best estimates of the arrival dates of the oil spill, transported along with the Loop Current, for Key West, the middle Keys, and Miami are around May 23-24, May 26 and May 28, respectively."

Happy Memorial Day, Keys! It will be one to remember.

Mid- and late-afternoon beach walkers report a southwest breeze brought the distinct odor of oil along with it.


NIchole said...

I just wanted to leave a link to a possibility of Hay as a soaking agent to absorb SOME of the oil. This article and video is pretty interesting. I hope the bigwigs are looking into this as a solution rather than some of the toxic fixes they are currently using.

PollyNCrackers said...

There is a media blackout and BP and the government are censoring what you see and what you know about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Learn more: