From one disaster to another

Gulf oysters: two years later, still sick

The two year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion is just a days away, and as Bryan Walsh from Time magazine puts it, the “oil spill seems to divide people into two categories: those who can’t forget, and those who refuse to remember. In the first camp are Gulf Coast residents and environmentalists who say the region still hasn’t recovered from the worst oil spill in U.S. history, and who are still waiting to be made whole—as BP once promised. In the second is much of the oil industry and many Republicans, who like to complain that offshore drilling has slowed under President Obama, yet seem to forget the multi-billion dollar damage that the oil spill left, and the months it took to repair the Macondo blowout.”

You can read more in his article, Nearly two years on, did the BP oil spill have to happen to BP?

And while we’re wondering about the inevitability of BP’s spill, Total’s North Sea gas leak appears to be much worse than originally reported:

Sitting on a powder keg of highly flammable natural gas and gas condensate, the French oil major’s rig could be one of the worst oil disasters in the North Sea. A gas cloud, made mostly of methane, has essentially enveloped the rig after attempts to shut a troubled production failed and caused a leak. If this cloud — which is growing by roughly 200,000 cubic meters a day — ignites, it could be catastrophic.

Clearly, the potential for human and environmental tragedy is the paramount concern here, much as it was with BP’s Gulf of Mexico disaster.

Back to the Gulf of Mexico, there have been a number of recent articles about ongoing environmental problems. A story in the  Guardian, Gulf’s dolphins pay heavy price for Deepwater oil spill, discusses the NOAA dolphin study and provides details on several other troubling studies:

The (NOAA dolphin report) follows the publication of several scientific studies into insect populations on the nearby Gulf coastline and into the health of deepwater coral populations, which all suggest that the environmental impact of the five-month long spill may have been far worse than previously appreciated.

Another study confirmed that zooplankton – the microscopic organisms at the bottom of the ocean food chain – had also been contaminated with oil. Indeed, photographs issued last month of wetland coastal areas show continued contamination, with some areas still devoid of vegetation.

An article in Food Safety NewsNo sign of oyster recovery two years after BP oil spill, cites an oyster farmer who sees “nothing but dead shells in the Louisiana oyster beds that produced 60 to 80 sacks of oysters a day before the BP spill.” (Read this article and you’ll think twice about eating that Gulf seafood that government officials are touting as safe.)

What does this have to do with the Gulf of Guinea?

The Guinea Large Marine Ecosystem, rich in marine life, is stressed by pollution and overfishing.

According to a recent Reuters article by Richard Valdmanis and Simon Akam, “West Africa, recognized as one of the world’s richest fisheries grounds teeming with snapper, grouper, sardines, mackerel and shrimp, loses up to $1.5 billion worth of fish each year to vessels fishing in protected zones or without proper equipment or licenses.” The article describes the Gulf of Guinea as having, “the world’s highest proportion of illegal catch at about 37 percent of the region’s total, according to researchers, and as a result is at risk of collapse.”

An oil spill in an already fragile ecosystem can have devastating consequences, especially as few countries in the region are prepared to respond to a significant accident.

In the Gulf of Mexico, many also question the impact of the nearly two million gallons of chemical dispersants pumped into the ocean. The most widely used dispersant, Corexit, is toxic and some describe its effects as worse than oil for the offshore ecosystem.

In the Gulf of Guinea there are many reports of widespread, indiscriminate use of dispersants. Environmentalists criticized Shell’s use of dispersants on the December 2011 Bonga oil spill. Several researchers have told me that dispersants are routinely used on small spills and leaks throughout the region, often close to shore and in fishing zones.

Officials like to talk about human error on the Deepwater Horizon rig and the reckless culture of BP. But what about Total’s gas leak, the Bonga spill, the recent Chevron spills off the coast of Brazil?  Let’s hope the second anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster revives the discussion on safety and regulation.

One Response to “From one disaster to another”

  1. […] year I wrote about the environmental impacts of the massive Corexit dump in the Gulf of Mexico and I noted that Shell oil had allegedly used an excessive amount of Corexit to “clean up” the Bonga spill off the coast of Nigeria in December […]

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