Gulf Oil Spill, or An Order of Magnitude

“The following is not public,” reads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Emergency Response document dated April 28. “Two additional release points were found today in the tangled riser. If the riser pipe deteriorates further, the flow could become unchecked resulting in a release volume an order of magnitude higher than previously thought.”

I really am not that much more calm today than yesterday.  Truthfully, I am more upset, angry, worried and lost than I was yesterday.

This is the second weekend of Jazz Fest, and I enjoy listening to WWOZ on my drive in to work.  Today, the sweet sound of music was too happy for my somber mood.  That same damn sinking feeling post-Katrina has returned.  This disaster is of such a magnitude, and the people responsible so slow in their response, that it again boggles the mind and is hard to even fully grasp.

Each day, no, every hour, the news is worse.  The winds are turning in the wrong direction; fourth and fifth leaks in the pipeline are discovered; oil is reaching Plaquemines Parish, St. Bernard Parish.  It is harrowing.  And in many ways worse than Katrina.

The politics of the spill are too much for me.  Why did Obama wait, not unlike Bush, A FULL WEEK to get actively involved in the spill?  How can his administration have trusted the word of BP?  After all the lies the bankers told, can the administration have expected but that another big corporation wasn’t going to admit to the full gravity of the situation up front? And all the while, that oil is spewing; seeping; pushing its way to our lands.

BP now admits it can’t contain the spill.  It’s best estimate is that it can build another drilling rig to go to the well to divert the flow that will be ready in three months.  THREE MONTHS?  Is it serious?  Because mid-July is smack dab into hurricane season.  Surely nothing more can go wrong during that time of the year.

There is serious concern now that the wellhead (entry spot of the well) may deteriorate such that the oil will stop flowing  through the pipeline (and thus be subject to more control) and will start to instead spew directly into the water.  And if THAT happens, its estimated that 2.1 MILLION GALLONS OF OIL PER DAY will spew into the Gulf.

So, simple math, folks. THREE MORE MONTHS (and since that estimate is from BP, I’d put it closer to SIX or until the well empties), of 2.1M gallons per day gives us 189 million gallons of oil, give or take, pumped into the Gulf by mid-July.

The effect? How does one even begin to assess this?  Let me try.  Let’s bring this home so it’s relateable.   My brother is a commercial fisherman.  Well, my brother WAS a commercial fisherman.  He’s been doing this for about 15 years, and he bought a new(er) boat 3 months ago.  He fixed up the boat when not fishing and put it in the water for the first time last week.  Today, he (along with all the other fishermen in the Gulf area) was instructed to pull his traps and boat out of the water.  He fished primarily in St. Bernard Parish. That’s done. Already. DONE.  By tomorrow, the Gulf waters surrounding St. Bernard will be full of oil.  He’s already been told that there’s no fishing on the right side of the River. ALREADY.

My brother, and all of his thousands of counterparts, will have no income after today.  No income, no job, no profession, no livelihood.  These are not corporate folks that will be kept on the books while things “work themselves out.”  These are folks that have no income coming in after today.  They started the week like any other, having been lied to by BP just as the media and our government was, and now they are on The Dole.

Were these fishermen going to share in the gross (and I do mean GROSS) revenues BP was to earn with this oil production?  Ha ha ha.  Of course not.  Will they be made whole by BP for this disaster?  Realistically, no.  My brother and his fishing brothers are meeting with an attorney on Monday.  There will be a class action law suit.  That should last, give or take, a decade to resolve.  Let’s assume my brother’s take from the lawsuit was magically 100% of his loss (again, ha ha ha).  He won’t take that to the bank.  No; first he has to pay his attorney.  That will be 30 to 40%.  So AT BEST in about a decade my brother will get about SIXTY PERCENT of his loss.  So how does that help him eat today?

I understand some of you will say, Hey, tell your brother to get another job already! Well, he will, or course.  You can’t eat on NO INCOME FOR A DECADE.  But my brother didn’t go into a profession that was dying or on the decline.  He invested in a stalwart industry. And. Now. It. Is. Gone. No warning. No preparing. GONE.

And let’s not forget that Louisiana identifies itself with food. SEAFOOD.  We aren’t talking just about eating it.  We grow it, catch it, cook it, celebrate it.  We are not prepared for Nutria Burgers as the mainstay dinner.

Which dovetails into another big industry in this State: Tourism.  No seafood and screwed wetlands doesn’t make this the Sportsman’s Paradise it’s known for.  So, hotels, restaurants (they get the double whammy), convention centers, airlines, and related tourism folk are also now in jeopardy of a lost career, or a move out of the Gulf area.

The Alaskan spill of 1989 left the environment fully scathed.  There’s still little to no life activity in that water as it had been prior to the spill.  Oh, and that litigation?  Exxon settled in 2008.  TWO DECADES later.  There is reason to believe, to be highly concerned, that the Louisiana seafood industry is dead.  Even as I type it, I don’t believe it.  IT CAN’T BE.  But oil and animals don’t mix.

Which dovetails right into our wetlands. Dear God. This is a more bleak picture than the seafood situation.  The Louisiana marshes and wetlands and barrier islands are ecosystems unto themselves.  And they systematically have been raped by Big Oil for as long as oil has been an industry in Louisiana.  All the State oil and gas leases have a provision in them that requires the oil company to rebuild, replenish, FIX the drilling area back to how it was pre-drilling.  And this provision has been systematically ignored by the State for as long as oil has been an industry in this State.  So, Big Oil and Government have been failing us for decades.  And what has that failure meant? Well, along with the effects of hurricanes, it has meant the stripping, reducing, thinning, lessening of our wetlands.

And now this spill.  Our fragile wetlands are about to get a shock that may just bring them to a veritable end. Why?  Because the ecosystems that give them their life are about to be wiped away.  And without those ecosystems, the entire wetland becomes just a swath of bare (if not already dead) trees.  And once the trees die, there are no more wetlands.  Well, at that point New Orleans will be the barrier island for the rest of the country.  We truly will be America’s Wetlands.

My only hope is that, as my friend over at Blackened Out suggested, MAYBE because this is sweet crude oil (about as thick as motor oil) and not the sludgy, thick, tar-like oil that leaked in Alaska, MAYBE it won’t adhere as strongly, MAYBE it can be cleaned up more quickly and with less devastating effects than those we saw in Alaska.  My worry, however, is that the sheer volume of the spill will outweigh the benefit of it not being a thicker oil.

So pardon me if I am edgy these days; if my step doesn’t go to the music of Jazz Fest; if I no longer give a rat’s ass about the stupid, and clearly unconstitutional, Arizona immigration law.

This post was originally published on www.nolanotes.com on April 30, 2010.

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5 thoughts on “Gulf Oil Spill, or An Order of Magnitude

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