Friday, April 30, 2010

Disastrous, Shameful Oil Spill Endangers Economy, Wildlife In Gulf

 Snorted one liberal cable television anchor, "What do you think of that 'Drill Baby Drill' thingy now," referring to recent chants by Sarah Palin and heard frequently by Republicans, conservatives and many voters during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Frankly, Virginia, I don't give a damn about the political fallout of the oil spill tragedy now washing ashore off the Gulf of Mexico. It will have a crippling effect on Gulf Coast businesses, still reeling from Hurricane Katrina, and and a killing effect on wildlife.

The reason is that politicians, environmentalists and oil producers all lie, promoting or protecting their turf. One example will suffice and I will then dive into the substance of the gulf disaster.

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and several Fox News anchors stated categorically that not one drop of oil was spilled from the off-shore oil platforms in the Gulf.

Fact check: The U.S. Minerals Management Service reported the combined impact of both hurricanes resulted in 124 platform spills amounting to 17,700 barrels (714,000 gallons) of total petroleum products. Production was ceased for months on those damaged rigs.

Of course, those gallons are a drip compared to the estimated 210,000 gallons leaked daily from Deepwater Horizon's oil rig with no reliable estimate when it will be capped. The rig operated by British Petroleum bores 5,000 feet from the water surface into the continental shelf..

There is no clear answer whether the drilling devise had two independent safety features as required that are designed to prevent the explosion and fire that killed 11 platform crew.

A lawsuit filed against Halliburton Inc., the service contractor, improperly performed its job in cementing the well, "increasing the pressure at the well and contributing to the fire, explosion and resulting oil spill."

The oil rig has suffered a series of spills, fires and even a high seas ship collision because of equipment failure, human error and bad weather since it's operation began nine years ago, according to an article in Friday's Los Angeles Times.

The Times quoted federal inspectors and the Coast Guard saying such mishaps are not at all unusual.

Deepwater Horizon's oil rig is a complicated construction of pipes, concrete and valves that gave way 5,000 feet below in a manner that no one has yet been able to explain.

Scott Bickford, a lawyer for several Deepwater Horizon workers who survived the blast, said he believes a "burp" of natural gas rose to the rig floor and was sucked into machinery, leading to the explosion.

According to the Times, this oil platform since 2002 sustained numerous equipment and human failures, small fires and a total of 1,300 barrels of petroleum products dumped into the Gulf.

From 2000, the Coast Guard issued six enforcement warnings, one civil penalty, 18 incidents of pollution and 16 investigations of accidents covering fires to slip-and-fall accidents.

The U.S. worst oil spill in history was when the Exxon Valdez tanker spilled 10 million gallons on an Alaskan shoreline in 1989. At the rate the new Gulf spill is leaking, that amount will be surpassed in about 40 days.

This spill will have a critical economic impact on tourism and fishing industries along the Gulf coastline from Louisiana to Florida.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said the spill endangers 445 species of fish, 45 species of mammals, 32 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 134 species of birds.

The economic and ecological damage at its present rate will surpass that of the Exxon Valdez and the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969. The Santa Barbara Union Oil platform leaked an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 barrels of crude oil over a 10-day period, killing upwards of 10,000 birds and crippling the coastal economy.

National Oceanic Atmospheric Association spokesman Tom Brosnan said at a news conference today, "The challenge with this type of oil is it's going to float, and, depending on what the wind and waves do, it may stick around for a while."

Wildlife officials outline the species threatened by the Gulf spill.

Sea Creatures -- Bluefin tuna, bottlenose dolphin, sperm whale, oysters, West Indian manatee and the Gulf manhaden.

Land Creatures -- About 5 million migratory birds stop to lay eggs and others to feed.  When oil coats a bird's feathers it is no longer able to repel water or trap air, resulting in the bird's death by hypothermia. Some 96 species of migratory songbirds, such as warblers, buntings and swallows, make stops along the Gulf shore on their annual journey from the United States to Central and South America. The brown pelican, Louisiana's state bird, once on the endangered species list, is also at risk. Beach nesting birds, such as royal terns, sandpipers, the reddish egret and snowy plovers, will be negatively impacted as tar balls begin rolling in.their feathers.

Reptiles -- Both endangered species, the loggerhead turtle and the Kemp's ridley turtle come to the gulf to feed beginning in May, and lay their eggs along the coast's beaches. In addition, the endangered diamondback terrapin, which is found in the marshes of Alabama, may see its food supply compromised when the oil slick washes ashore. Even the alligator, an animal that is not now in danger of extinction, may encounter a steep decline in the fish it feeds on in the brackish estuaries that border the gulf.

Unlike man who seldom replenishes the spoils he robs from the earth, nature has a way of resurrecting its species over a long period of time.

There is a delicate balance in government policy that must be achieved weighing economic interests against the environmental impact of those decisions. If we destroy the environment, we destroy ourselves. It is a lesson we should have learned from Native Americans but didn't.

Government policy makers have short memories but nature doesn't. Sarah Palin, in particular, or Mike Huckabee, who may or may not want to be policy makers, should know from the Exxon Valdez accident and now the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that drilling and transportation of oil carries humongous risks and insults the intelligence of even the most harmless royal tern when they blithely chant "Drill Baby Drill."

It proves that our nation's energy policy cannot be dictated by sound bites.

As for the politics, the Gulf oil spill -- despite perhaps being a statistical anomoly as far as major accidents occur -- would shift the search for energy to cleaner sources such as solar panels and wind farms with the bridge to those sources being natural gas.

Readers comments are welcome as long as they remain civil. We reserve the right to delete any comments that are vulgar, libelous and totally irrelevant to this posting. -- Jer

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