Watching the news about that Gulf oil slick today has been making me sick. Almost physically ill.
I knew when that rig collapsed last week that a leak was inevitable. But since then the report has gone from one leak to three, and from 1,000 barrels a day to 5,000.
I knew it was inevitable that some amount of drifting oil would find its way ashore somewhere, eventually. It didn’t take long for the predictions to say the oil would first come ashore on the Mississippi delta. Today, the latest reports are saying the oil is less than six miles from the southeastern-most Louisiana coast, and that the residents of New Orleans, who are much farther inland and up river, can smell the oil.
Booms, burning, skimmers, and dispersants are being employed with very limited success. The winds are too high for much burning, and the oil slick too thin. And there aren’t enough booms in the world to corral a spill reportedly the size of the Delaware and Rhode Island combined. Three remote-operated underwater vehicles have been unable to cap the well, a task that was supposed to have been accomplished by an automatic blowout preventer when the Deepwater Horizon rig collapsed.
At least ten wetland wildlife refuges in Louisiana and Mississippi are in the path of the slick, as are the fishing grounds for Louisiana’s fish, oyster, lobster, and crab industries. Throughout the marshlands of the Gulf coast, birds are nesting and broods are hatching. And the entire region is still trying to recover from Hurricane Katrina.
This is so going to be much worse than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, where the oil drifted onto rocky coasts that could be steam cleaned and scoured. This week’s spill is going ashore in sea-level wetlands and marshes with dense vegetation — the kind of terrain that supports a heavier, more diverse wildlife population than any other. You can’t steam clean vegetation. You can’t catch and hand wash the myriad sea creatures, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds that inhabit an area like that. You probably can’t even find most of them. With tides rising and falling in the area, flowing in and out of bayous and estuaries and washing over broad tidelands, the oil will be spread over an area far broader than the well defined coasts of Alaska’s Prince William Sound.
In the back of my mind I keep hearing Sarah Palin gleefully chanting, “Drill, baby, drill.” Such irresponsibility, to wish more of this on any of our coastlines.
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Image CC gambier20 (Flickr)