Ocean spill damage, “Out of sight, out of mind” mentality
By Valerie J. Amor 7.25.2010
It has been 95 days since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank to the bottom of the Gulf.
Admiral Allen on Saturday, July 24 estimated timelines for resuming preparations for the static kill and relief well drilling operations once the equipment is reconnected. “I think probably within 48 hours, they’ll be able to start relaying that casing which is the final piece of pipe they have to put into the well bore, and then once that casing is in place, they will put some cement around it to hold it. While that cement is drying, within 48 hours, they will be able to begin the hydrostatic top kill putting the mud down the top of the well,” he said.
“It will probably take somewhere between five and seven days for that cement to dry and for them to be in position to be able to actually drill into the well annulus itself. So if you add all that up we’re probably looking at somewhere between seven to ten days before we would be able to start the well intercept after the Development Driller III is on scene and has latched up.”
Administrator Lubchenco discussed Bonnie’s expected impact on oil in the Gulf of Mexico. “We expect that Bonnie should help dissipate and weather the oil that’s at the surface. It will spread the surface slick out and thereby lower oil concentrations. It’s expected to break tar patches and tar mass into smaller tar balls which means faster weathering and faster natural biodegradation,” she said. “It will also cause more natural dispersion, again lowering the concentration of oil in the water and making it more available to the natural bacteria that are in the water that do this natural biodegradation.”
It is noteworthy that this natural biodegradation referred to by Administrator Luchenco as a natural dispersant actually creates ocean areas that have reduced or no oxygen. Dead zones, noted around the world’s oceans are increasing. Scientists continue to study these data and have noted that these lower dissolved oxygen readings are the same depths where elevated levels of fluorescence have been detected and where prior work, presented in the first JAG report, has identified elevated concentrations of oil in water samples.
Decreases in dissolved oxygen concentrations may be related to a breakdown of oil by oxygen-consuming microbes. There are also concerns that the instruments used to monitor oil may be affected by that oil in the water. As a way to confirm the dissolved oxygen measurements, the JAG has recommended the use of a second, complementary, dissolved oxygen testing system, called Winkler titrations, be added to all monitoring ships.
So, when the leak stops, will the damage to the ocean and affected marine life stop as well? In the article by the Miami Herald on June 12, 2010, “Lessons from Valdez” though well researched, in Part 2 there are quotes from scientific professionals who indicate that the area appears to have recovered from this massive oil spill from 1989. There is conflicting scientific reports that the wildlife and marine life continues to be plagued from the effects of the oil with lower birth survival rates and other problems. The “out of sight, out of mind” issue with this article just like Administrator Lubchenco’s comment is that the oceans can heal itself . While it would seems a relief to know that maybe the earth can heal itself a report recently released by Science magazine on June 17, 2010 shows evidence of deteriorating health of the world’s oceans that may be irreversible.
Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, lead author of the report and Director of The University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute and report co-author, Dr John F. Bruno, an Associate Professor at The University of North Carolina suggest that we are entering a period in which we will no longer have the ability to influence the direction of marine ecosystems.
Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said: “We are entering a period in which the very ocean services upon which humanity depends are undergoing massive change and in some cases beginning to fail.
“Further degradation will continue to create enormous challenges and costs for societies worldwide.”
He said that we may soon see “sudden, unexpected changes that have serious ramifications for the overall well-being of humans,” including the capacity of the planet to support people.
“This is further evidence that we are well on the way to the next great extinction event.”
The “fundamental and comprehensive” changes to marine life identified in the report include rapidly warming and acidifying oceans, changes in water circulation and expansion of dead zones within the ocean depths.
Oxygen concentrations have been dropping off the Northwest U.S. coast and the coast of southern Africa, where dead zones are appearing regularly. There is paleontological evidence that declining oxygen levels in the oceans played a major role in at least four or five mass extinctions.
Nutrient-poor “ocean deserts” in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans grew by 15 percent, or roughly 2.5 million square miles from 1998 to 2006.
For now, the eastern shoreline of Florida seems to have been spared from the oil spill disaster in the Gulf. The dreaded Loop current did not bring tar balls or mats to disfigure our wonderful beaches and clear waters.
A shadow on this cloud of relief is the news that Cuba once again started then delayed plans to move forward to begin oil exploration off their northern coastline. Translation = the potential of an oil spill in this country could also be captured by the Loop current and again threaten the southern and eastern side of our state. Interestingly enough,the United States has vast oil and gas fields in the Gulf of Mexico, but its energy companies cannot do business in Cuba because of the 47-year-old embargo against the island that is just 90 miles from Florida’s Key West. Perhaps a better reason for the continued push to lift the current ban on offshore oil drilling and the recent inaction of the special legislative session called by Governor Crist to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot.
As tragic as this oil spill and the particulars of BP’s government monitored attempts to permanently seal the well continue, it is disconcerting that around the world there are environmental disasters that have continued unabated for decades. In Nigeria’s Niger River Delta over the last five decades as many as 546 million gallons of oil are believed to have spilled since oil exploration began in this region-the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez spill every year or the underground coal fires that have been in China and in Pennsylvania since 1962, “out of sight, out of mind”.
If you need to know: the Gulf oil spill by the Numbers to Date:
•The administration has authorized the deployment of 17,500 National Guard troops from Gulf Coast states to respond to this crisis; currently, 1,676 are active.
• Approximately 30,100 personnel* are currently responding to protect the shoreline and wildlife and cleanup vital coastlines.
• More than 3,700 vessels* are currently responding on site, including skimmers, tugs, barges, and recovery vessels to assist in containment and cleanup efforts-in addition to dozens of aircraft, remotely operated vehicles, and multiple mobile offshore drilling units.
• More than 3.43 million feet** of containment boom and 7.82 million feet of sorbent boom have been deployed to contain the spill-and approximately 835,000 feet of containment boom and 2.72 million feet of sorbent boom are available.
• More than 34.7 million gallons of an oil-water mix have been recovered.
• Approximately 1.84 million gallons of total dispersant have been applied-1.07 million on the surface and 771,000 sub-sea. Approximately 577,000 gallons are available.
• 411 controlled burns have been conducted, efficiently removing a total of more than 11.14 million gallons of oil from the open water in an effort to protect shoreline and wildlife. Because calculations on the volume of oil burned can take more than 48 hours, the reported total volume may not reflect the most recent controlled burns.
• 17 staging areas are in place to protect sensitive shorelines.
• Approximately 637 miles of Gulf Coast shoreline is currently oiled-approximately 362 miles in Louisiana, 109 miles in Mississippi, 70 miles in Alabama, and 96 miles in Florida. These numbers reflect a daily snapshot of shoreline currently experiencing impacts from oil so that planning and field operations can more quickly respond to new impacts; they do not include cumulative impacts to date, or shoreline that has already been cleared.
• Approximately 57,539 square miles of Gulf of Mexico federal waters remain closed to fishing in order to balance economic and public health concerns. Approximately 76 percent remains open. Details can be found at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/.
• To date, the administration has leveraged assets and skills from numerous foreign countries and international organizations as part of this historic, all-hands-on-deck response, including Argentina, Belgium, Canada, China, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Qatar, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization, the European Union’s Monitoring and Information Centre, and the European Maritime Safety Agency.
• For information about the response effort, visit www.RestoreTheGulf.gov.
• For specific information about the federal-wide response, visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/deepwater-bp-oil-spill.
• To contact the Deepwater Horizon Joint Information Center, call (713) 323-1670.
• To volunteer, or to report oiled shoreline, call (866) 448-5816. Volunteer opportunities can also be found here.
• To submit your vessel as a vessel of opportunity skimming system, or to submit alternative response technology, services, or products, call 281-366-5511.
• To report oiled wildlife, call (866) 557-1401.
• For information about validated environmental air and water sampling results, visit www.epa.gov/bpspill.
• For National Park Service updates about potential park closures, resources at risk, and NPS actions to protect vital park space and wildlife, visit http://www.nps.gov/aboutus/oil-spill-response.htm.
• For Fish and Wildlife Service updates about response along the Gulf Coast and the status of national wildlife refuges, visit http://www.fws.gov/home/dhoilspill/.
• For daily updates on fishing closures, visit http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov.
• For information on assistance loans for affected businesses, visit the SBA’s Web site at www.sba.gov/services/disasterassistance , call (800) 659-2for the hearing impaired), or email .
• To file a claim with BP, visit www.bp.com/claims or call BP’s helpline at (800) 440-0858. A BP fact sheet with additional information is available here. Those who have already pursued the BP claims process and are not satisfied with BP’s resolution, can call the Coast Guard at (800) 280-7118. More information about what types of damages are eligible for compensation under the Oil Pollution Act as well as guidance on procedures to seek that compensation can be found here.
• In addition, www.disasterassistance.gov has been enhanced to provide a one-stop shop for information on how to file a claim with BP and access additional assistance-available in English and Spanish.
As an architectural consultant, LEED AP, LEED certification reviewer, real estate broker and AIA associate, Valerie J. Amor is dynamically engaged in sustainability and issues regarding the built environment. Actively participating in several local, county and national organizations and committees focused on sustainability issues, she is also owner/principal of Drawing Conclusions and founder/president of Green Collar Connection, companies engaged in sustainable design, real estate development, green job training and research. Knowledgeable and well connected she brings you timely and thoughtful articles. Reach her at .
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