A sad anniversary, and it’s only getting worse.
Up to now, only tar balls and a sheen of oil had come ashore. But brown and vivid orange globs and sheets of foul-smelling oil the consistency of latex paint have begun coating the reeds and grasses of Louisiana’s wetlands, home to rare birds, mammals and a rich variety of marine life.
As BP CEO Tony Hayward demonstrated, many people remain ignorant about the magnitude of unseen damage the underwater oil geyser is inflicting upon the ocean’s ecosystem right now. Hayward’s comment that the oil patch is “relatively tiny” compared to the “very big ocean” probably represents the views of many Americans.
Sanitized language like “patch,” “spill,” and “plume” make this terrible event seem more like a minor inconvenience – like a baby spilling a glass of milk. It’s adorable, really, except when it’s beautiful or delicious i.e. when it’s being described by Rep. Gene Taylor as “a light, rainbow sheen with patches that look like chocolate milk.”
Meanwhile, the “patch” is now larger than Maryland and Delaware, combined. The AP is desperately trying to depict the magnitude of this event by using an array of easy-to-envision examples:
a month’s worth of leaking oil could fill enough gallon milk jugs to stretch more than 11,300 miles. That’s more than the distance from New York to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and back. That’s just shy of 130 million gallons.
I overheard an MSNBC reporter utilizing the visualization of high school gymnasiums — hundreds of them — stacked atop one another, filled to the ceilings with oil.
Those members of the media fighting the good fight — the ones who are trying to get the public to understand how bad this catastrophe is — are battling a giant corporation’s PR machine. It’s now clear that BP was either being disingenuous, or lying, when they told federal agents they could handle an oil spill 60 times larger than Deepwater Horizon. Purdue Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Steven Werely, estimates that nearly 100,000 barrels — 4 million gallons, or an Exxon Valdez every three days – is spewing from the leak.
BP attempted to block the press from filming the extent of the oil disaster. In fact, the company’s first reaction was to limit damage inflicted to its public image, and protect profits, by buying off the victims, and quickly making the visual evidence disappear using chemical dispersants, which have been banned by the UK, into the ocean. The EPA has since ordered BP to use less toxic chemicals.
Scientists have now discovered enormous underwater oil plumes, described by one of them as a “shocking amount of oil.”
The team found evidence for oil in three or four deep layers, including one 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick in places. They found them in the deeper water – the shallowest at around 2,300 feet, the deepest, near the sea floor at about 4,200 feet.
They also found the underwater oil plumes depleted the oxygen in the water, which they fear may endanger marine life.
One of Andrew Sullivan’s readers used the ridiculous rationalization that the Gulf is a “dead zone,” so the 4 million gallons of oil emptying into the ocean every three days aren’t really harming anything. A more astute reader pointed out that the ocean has these things called plants that are extremely valuable to the ecosystem. Just because there aren’t dead dolphins washing up onto the beach every day (there have been some, but the oil’s role in their deaths is unclear) doesn’t mean the geyser isn’t inflicting massive damage.
BP estimates that the gusher could continue until early August, a date that falls right smack in the middle of hurricane season. Needless to say, the presence of a hurricane will significantly restrict any clean-up effort. In fact, a severe storm could propel spilled crude and tar balls over vast expanses of sea and beach, according to scientists.
I know I shouldn’t speak out of turn here, lest Rand Paul think me un-American for daring to criticize a business’s unethical practices, but lots of people have gone to prison for doing far less than the damage inflicted upon society by BP. They misinformed federal inspectors, and cut corners at every turn, and they have no desire to stop this behavior. While Americans were gnashing their teeth about this horror, BP ran up to Canada to urge their officials to adopt the same deregulation measures. You know, because profit is all that matters. Long live, President Paul!
This is America’s same ol’ deregulation song and dance. Big business shaves the bone to make another billion dollars, endangering everything from the environment to workers’ lives along the way, and when a mine or a rig explodes into flames, killing workers and poisoning the planet, all the CEOs and politicians shake their heads at “what a shame” it all is.
It’s more than a shame. It’s a crime — a totally preventable crime.