2010 BP Oil Spill
The US depends upon a constant oil supply in order to remain an economically competitive nation, this much is certain. It remains questionable whether the push for offshore drilling will grant the security of energy independence. But in the midst of the largest man-made disaster of our time, visible from space, the dark-side of oil extraction drifts into public view. I am talking about, of course, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on April 16th, 2010. Eleven workers of the oil rig Deepwater Horizon were killed, and oil gushes from its broken pipes 5,000ft below the ocean’s surface. British Petroleum (BP) having ownership of the sunken Deepwater Horizon has been provided sole responsibility of stopping the leak, and cleaning-up the mess.
Over a month after the initial explosion and with the leak still not stopped, this disaster continues to be a large environmental and economic concern for Louisiana and its surrounding areas. Despite the best efforts of the coast guard, volunteers, and BP engineers, severe damage is being done:
6 million gallons have shown up in Louisiana coast.
Louisiana fishing/beaches have been closed down.
Estimated 20 million gallons spilled so far
Estimated 4million gallons a day
20 times worse than Exxon Valdez
Giant underwater plum of oil/dispersants
Clean-up cost is $450,000,000 and increasing at $10,000,000 a day
Warm water loop current could take it to Florida
A Matter of National Security, or not…
If an American company can sell its petroleum product for $3 per gallon in any other part of the world, there is no incentive to sell for anything less in America. So while the business of energy remains private, no amount of domestic drilling can save us from the law of supply and demand. The multinational corporate mindset is to follow the path of highest profitability. The Deepwater Horizon for example, had been flying the flag of a small group of islands off the coast of Australia named the Marshall Islands. The oil rig Deepwater Horizon had no official ties to the Marshall Islands, but by claiming a nationality of choice allows corporations to choose which countries regulations their offshore drilling machinery must abide.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has had more influence on the global petroleum market than any single nation. OPEC is a consortium of twelve oil producing countries: Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. In 1973 OPEC attempted an embargo against the US that lasted less than two months. “While its members were giving up oil revenues, its oil was still reaching the United States because of diverted shipments from Europe.” Today America spends more money on crude oil imports from Canada and Mexico than we purchase from all of the Persian Gulf.
One can also make the argument that corporations drilling on domestic soil may not necessarily be American, and inversely American oil producers often operate outside of the country. Prior to the spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP had been selling their image in America as “Beyond Petroleum,” presumably to blend-in as a local company and hide an already tarnished reputation.
“British Petroleum was linked to bribery in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in 2001, and 2002, and the Financial Times commented that ‘while the days of government ownership have long passed, BP’s ties with the British government are still so close that rivals call it [Blair Petroleum].”
With support from the US military, American petroleum multinationals have gained access to many of the world’s largest oil deposits. The Iraq Oil Ministry was the first major building to be occupied by American soldiers in Iraq (Phillips, 2006). This ministry was home to thousands of seismic portraits of oil fields, which provided no strategic military value. If there had been any question, this spoke loudly to the reason why America was invading Iraq.
For the greater extent of my 26 yr. life, oilmen have dominated the American presidency. The last decade of which, both the president (George W. Bush) and vice president (Dick Cheney) have commonly referred to themselves as “Texas oilmen.” George W. used his presidency, in-part, to tie the hands of the American regulatory system. “President Bush has installed more than 100 top officials who were once lobbyists, attorneys or spokespeople for the industries they oversee.” Minerals Management Service, in charge of overseeing the petroleum industry is certainly no exception. An infamous “revolving door” was created at MMS when former BP executive Sylvia Baca was appointed head of division of Minerals Management Service.
Minerals Management Service boasts the second highest income for the American government, receiving $10 billion in revenue for 2009. Taxes are undoubtedly the biggest income. During a presidential news conference, 27MAY10, President Obama describes the Minerals Management Service as “plagued with corruption for years and has given the oil industry leverage to regulate themselves.” As evidence, the president offers that under current law the Interior Department only has 30 days to review an exploration plan submitted by an oil company, which does not give sufficient time to do the review defaulting in a PASS.
A somewhat less direct way that the oil industry influence political decisions is through lobbying. British Petroleum reportedly spent $20 million in Washington lobbying in 2009 alone. This does point to an interesting question. Should foreign business men be given such access to influencing American political policy?
Effects of Petroleum (Hydrocarbons) on Life
Petroleum weathers from initial spill-site to shore, going from fluid rainbow sheen to sticky and tar-like. Near the spill-site, where the oil is still thin, hydrocarbons are volatile, reactive, toxic, and highly flammable. The stickier weathered form of oil contains cancer-causing Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH). Plants and small animals along the shore are smothered to death, turtles perish from food-contamination, and birds suffer hypothermia as the oil strips their feathers of weatherproofing.
It is hard to say what effect the Exxon/Valdez oil spill had on marine life, as the area was not well documented before the spill. Killer whales on the other hand, had been well tracked in Alaska. A group of 22, known as the Prince Albert Transients, have their own dialect, eat mammals instead of fish, and generally do not intermingle with other killer whale populations. Nine whales disappeared in the first winter after the spill, including two females and two children. This group is expected to die out, as they have no remaining females of reproductive age. This does not bode well for our cetacean friends in the Gulf of Mexico.
Cetaceans of the Gulf of Mexico
Northern right whale Balaena glacialis
Blue whale Balaenoptera musculus
Fin whale Balaenoptera physalus
Sei whale Balaenoptera borealis
Bryde’s whale (S)a Balaenoptera edeni
Minke whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata
Humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae
Sperm whale (S) Physeter macrocephalus
Pygmy sperm whale (S) Kogia breviceps
Dwarf sperm whale (S) Kogia sima
Cuvier’s beaked whale (S) Ziphius cavirostris
Blainville’s beaked whale Mesoplodon densirostris
Sowerby’s beaked whale Mesoplodon bidens
Gervais’ beaked whale Mesoplodon europaeus
Melon-headed whale (S) Peponocephala electra
Pygmy killer whale (S) Feresa attenuata
False killer whale (S) Pseudorca crassidens
Killer whale (S) Orcinus orca
Short-finned pilot whale (S) Globicephala macrorhynchus
Rough-toothed dolphin (S) Steno bredanensis
Fraser’s dolphin (S) Lagenodelphis hosei
Bottlenose dolphin (S) Tursiops truncatus
Risso’s dolphin (S) Grampus griseus
Atlantic spotted dolphin (S) Stenella frontalis
Pantropical spotted dolphin (S) Stenella attenuata
Striped dolphin (S) Stenella coeruleoalba
Spinner dolphin (S) Stenella longirostris
Clymene dolphin (S) Stenella clymene
We are already seeing a health-decline of volunteers in the Gulf. A few have been hospitalized with claims of headaches, nausea, dizziness, coughing, sore throats, and other flu-like symptoms. These symptoms are signs of chemical poisoning, requiring special health-care. Only after volunteers started being hospitalized does BP acknowledge demands for protective equipment provisions of any kind, claiming that nobody yet knows the health risks. Yet in 2007, a study done by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found locals near the Hebei Spirit oil tanker spill suffered from “headache, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, tingling of limbs, sore throat, cough, runny nose, shortness of breath, itchy skin, rash and sore eyes.” Hitting a bit closer to home, 6,722 workers of the 1989 Valdez oil spill reported suffering from upper-respiratory illness.
An impressively well hidden oil spill, 1.5 times bigger than the Valdez oil spill, is centered under a residential area in Brooklyn, New York. Teresa Toro, who lives just two blocks away from the so far uncontaminated Newton Creek, says “when the wind is just right, I can smell it blowing off the creek. Sometimes we can’t open our windows.” Vapor tests performed in the area in 2005 relayed dangerous levels of Methane (natural gas) and Benzene. “It’s up to 35 or 36 people that I know that have had cancer just on this block,” says Tom Stagg, another block resident. Local residents speculate the source of the leak to be a large explosion that happened in the city’s sewer system in 1950. The explosion is rumored to have sent manhole covers (avg. 100lbs) “raining down on the populace.” Chemical analysis shows ExxonMobil to be the producer of the polluting oil in question, though they deny any involvement. No efforts are currently being made to clean up the spill; it is 55-acres and presumably growing larger.