Saturday, June 19, 2010

Dead Data in the Gulf: Saturday June 19 BP Oil Spill Update

"If a monster had seated himself at an engineering table and deliberately schemed to wage war against every living thing in the Gulf of Mexico he couldn't have done a more thorough job than BP Corp."
1. Weekend Oilcast.

Yesterday, we mentioned NOAA's new GeoPlatform. It offers, among many other things, a nifty interactive way to see and assess the likelihood of oil coming ashore at any point along the Gulf Coast.

Click here and reconfigure the layers on the right for the specific area and data of interest to you. Pictured above: a screenshot of the oil slick and fishing ban area in the north-central Gulf Coast for June 19-21, at a zoom level of 8.

Presently, wind and weather conditions are looking fairly favorable for the weekend, with a light "northeast" to "north" breeze. Water currents should keep the worst of the leading oil spill edge south and east of Pensacola Beach. However, conditions may deteriorate slightly by late Sunday afternoon as the light breeze turns to come from the southeast.

2. Strandings.

The same GeoPlatform tool can be used for much more than weather. Check off the proper "layers," for example, and you can create a graphic depiction of reported sea mammal strandings of dolphins, whales, and sea turtles. (See screenshots below) NOAA defines a "stranding" as "a dead or debilitated animal that washes ashore or is found in the water."

Using the 'zoom" feature you can see a close-up of sea life 'strandings' at just about any local point along the Gulf Coast. Below, we present a moderately close zoom of Pensacola Beach. Click on the graphic, below, to see the most recent dead dolphin data point:

3. Dead Animals, Birds.

Data points on the GeoPlatform, useful as they are, can't convey the full dimension of the catastrophe facing sea life in the Gulf. A recent video from Voice of America gives a somewhat better idea of what animal life in the Gulf is facing:

4. Gassy Gulf.

It's not just the oil. It's also the methane gas that is killing the Gulf of Mexico, as the Associated Press reports:

The oil emanating from the seafloor contains about 40 percent methane, compared with about 5 percent found in typical oil deposits, said John Kessler, a Texas A&M University oceanographer who is studying the impact of methane from the spill.

That means huge quantities of methane have entered the Gulf, scientists say, potentially suffocating marine life and creating "dead zones" where oxygen is so depleted that nothing lives.
Exactly how much methane is escaping into Gulf waters remains unknown. Like so much else about this unprecedented catastrophe, BP's public relations people are in high denial and scientists are just now beginning to take meaningful measurements.

Good science is a painfully slow process. What is known so far is that oxygen depletion is so severe it threatens many other forms of sea life from the usual fish, shellfish, and sea mammals to microbial cellular vegetation and other creatures we barely know anything about.

If a monster had seated himself at an engineering table and deliberately schemed to wage war against every living thing in the Gulf of Mexico he couldn't have done a more thorough job than BP Corp.

5. Casualty List.

Like a war, the casualty lists of the BP oil gusher are incomplete but mounting rapidly. NOAA has the latest known numbers of dead sea turtles and dolphins. The agency's run-down is dense and detailed, but not always easy for lay people to wade through.

The bottom line is this:
Of the 469 turtles verified from April 30 to June 17, a total of 360 stranded turtles were found dead, 37 stranded alive. Four of those subsequently died. Four live stranded turtles were released, and 29 live stranded turtles are being cared for at rehabilitation centers.
As for dolphins, the numbers are worse. "From April 30 to June 17, 46 stranded dolphins have been verified in the designated spill area." Of these, all but one is now dead.

NOAA is careful to add, "we are unable at this time to determine" how many were killed by oil. Necropsies are needed, we suppose, to determine exactly how many were killed directly by BP's oil spill, how many 'drank' themselves to death, and, just to be completely scientific, how many committed suicide.

6. Corporate Colonialism.

The BP oil catastrophe in the Gulf is big news in Great Britain as well as in the U.S. Overnight, we heard on BBC World Radio a too-brief discussion of BP's ugly colonial roots.

The company was, in effect, born to become one of the more aggressive colonial tools used by the British to strangle democracy and steal the wealth of oil-rich Persia (modern Iran). One commentator suggested that today's oil spill is in many ways emblematic of BP's consistently rapacious conduct throughout it's 101 year history.

On the BBC web site a business writer offers an abbreviated -- and thoroughly sanitized -- version of that history. ["BP Engulfed in Controversy Again"]:
It began life as the Anglo Persian Oil Company in 1909, before becoming British Petroleum in 1954.

In 2000, it joined with Arco, the US petrol giant, and two years later acquired the German fuel group Aral and lubricant specialist Castrol.

Today, the BP brand also encompasses the US convenience store group Ampm and the Wild Bean Cafe chain in the UK.

It operates in 80 countries across the world and sells its products and services in more than 100.

Only a hint of BP's modern-day colonial faillite morale can be detected there, but it's enough to give you an idea:
In 2006, a US congressional hearing accused BP of "unacceptable" neglect of pipelines in Alaska after it was forced to shut down oil operations in Prudhoe Bay because of leaking pipes.

In 2007, the company was fined a total of $373m by the US Department of Justice for environmental crimes and committing fraud.

The fine included $50m relating to a Texas refinery explosion in 2005 that killed 15 people and injured 170 more.

The largest single fine of $303m related to a price manipulation scam in the propane market.

Last October, BP was fined a further $87m for failing to correct safety hazards at the Texas refinery.

The company has also faced harsh criticism, from shareholders and environmental campaigners, about its plans to develop oil sands in Canada.

The methods used to extract oil from these sands give rise to far more carbon emissions than even standard oil drilling, they argue.

To some in the US, therefore, the Deep Horizon spill feels all too much like a terrible deja vu.

If you'd like to know the un-sanitized version of how, and for how long BP, has been ruining the world watch Amy Goodman's interview with Stephen Kinzer on Democracy Now!

When you're done, it will not surprise you to learn that rumors are circulating in London that BP's board of directors are trying to find ways of hiding their personal assets.

Dept. of Amplification
6-19 pm

Rick Outzen at IN Blog reminds us of another, easier to digest, tally of dead Gulf life. It's based on daily data from the Unified Command which they antiseptically title the "Consolidated Fish and Wildlife Collection Report."


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