The Gulf Coast Oil Spill: An ecological disaster years in the making

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill has now reached the Gulf Coast and will likely eclipse the Exxon Valdez disaster in its impact on the ecology of the fragile region. In its potential path: the Mississippi Delta below New Orleans with its wetlands, fishing grounds and wildlife sanctuaries; the beaches of Biloxi, Mississippi to the Florida Panhandle.
BATON ROUGE, La. (April 30) -- Fingers of greasy sheen from a massive oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico have reportedly begun lapping the Louisiana shoreline, the first salvo in what could become the nation's worst environmental disaster in decades

Crews in boats were patrolling coastal marshes early today along the coast looking for areas where the oil has flowed in, the Coast Guard told The Associated Press.

AP said the oil slick could become the nation's worst environmental disaster in decades, threatening to eclipse even the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in scope. It imperils hundreds of species of fish, birds and other wildlife along the Gulf Coast, one of the world's richest seafood grounds, teeming with shrimp, oysters and other marine life.
This oil rig disaster is far from over.  The Deepwater Horizon offshore rig, built by Hyundai Heavy Industries of South Korea in 2001, and operated by Transocean, Ltd. under lease by British Petroleum (BP) (who denied problems with a similar platform), was a semi-submersible deep water rig that had multiple lines 5,000 feet below the surface.  That means the lines leaking are both under pressure and difficult to cap.  The rig exploded on April 20, 2010 with eleven crew members missing and presumed dead.  The rig sank on April 22, 2010, setting the stage for one of the worst oil spills in decades. 

Brazil and other countries require a special emergency shut-off mechanism on their offshore rigs.  The Deepwater Horizon rig was not subject to that requirement in the United States.  Now there are questions whether Halliburton may have been involved with the process that led to the rig's failure.  This raises further questions about former Vice President Dick Cheney's involvement with the deregulation that came out of the Bush Administration following Cheney's secret meetings with the energy sector.  These are questions that have been long overdue for an answer; more pressing now given the horrifying consequences of the deregulation. 

After this disaster and the destruction it will cause -- and the fact that a change in law after the Valdez disaster requires the responsible parties (i.e. British Petroleum) to pick up the tab -- it would seem counterproductive for the oil industry to fight the expected regulation and oversight that will likely come out of the current administration, given that the shutoff mechanism, while expensive, is in no way comparable to the billions required to clean this mess.  

That does not take into account the loss of life and individual livelihood - the impact on potentially endangered species and coastal environments -- the ruination of industries barely on their feet following Katrina - another debacle of both the environment and faulty politics and engineering. 

President Obama, whose administration's response has been swift, is not without exposure to criticism in this disaster.  As noted in this earlier report -- in what had seemed to be political expediency -- President Obama had called for the opening of some coastal areas to offshore drilling.  This was likely a preemptive strike against the inevitable calls for "drill-baby-drill" out of the right wing when gas prices would rise -- as they seem to do -- in the summer driving season -- a season that includes the run-up to the 2010 election.  Given the optics that will come out of what can only be described as a complete and utter disaster, the White House has announced they will rethink that decision with no oil drilling in new areas until there is a review of the spill.   

The next few weeks could see birds covered in oil and the livelihood of shrimp fishermen disrupted or ended, as wetlands become poisoned and the well continues to spill oil.  The first of the slick to reach the shores will not be the last.  The noble and laudable efforts of the Coast Guard, the military and those contracted by BP itself will not be enough to forestall all damage and the damage could be great.

LABELS: ,, Halliburton