Archive for Sunday, May 23, 2010

Scientists: Cleaning oil-soaked wetlands may be impossible

May 23, 2010


A pelican leaves its nest as oil, from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, seen below, coats the shore of an island Saturday in Barataria Bay, just inside the coast of Louisiana. The island is home to hundreds of brown pelican nests as well as terns, gulls and roseated spoonbills.

A pelican leaves its nest as oil, from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, seen below, coats the shore of an island Saturday in Barataria Bay, just inside the coast of Louisiana. The island is home to hundreds of brown pelican nests as well as terns, gulls and roseated spoonbills.

— The gooey oil washing into the maze of marshes along the Gulf Coast could prove impossible to remove, leaving a toxic stew lethal to fish and wildlife, government officials and independent scientists said.

Officials are considering some drastic and risky solutions: They could set the wetlands on fire or flood areas in hopes of floating out the oil.

They warn an aggressive cleanup could ruin the marshes and do more harm than good. The only viable option for many impacted areas is to do nothing and let nature break down the spill.

More than 50 miles of Louisiana’s delicate shoreline already have been soiled by the massive slick unleashed after the Deepwater Horizon rig burned and sank last month. Officials fear oil eventually could invade wetlands and beaches from Texas to Florida. Louisiana is expected to be hit hardest.

On Saturday, a major pelican rookery was awash in oil off Louisiana’s coast. Hundreds of birds nest on the island, and an Associated Press photographer saw some birds and their eggs stained with the ooze. Nests were perched in mangroves directly above patches of crude.

Plaquemines Parish workers put booms around the island, but puddles of oil were inside the barrier.

“Oil in the marshes is the worst-case scenario,” said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the head of the federal effort to contain and clean up the spill.

Also Saturday, BP told federal regulators it plans to continue using a contentious chemical dispersant, despite orders from the Environmental Protection Agency to look for less toxic alternatives. BP said in a letter to the EPA that Corexit 9500 “remains the best option for subsea application.”

The EPA didn’t immediately comment on BP’s decision.

Oil that has rolled into shoreline wetlands coats the stalks and leaves of plants such as roseau cane — the fabric that holds together an ecosystem that is essential to the region’s fishing industry and a much-needed buffer against Gulf hurricanes. Soon, oil will smother those plants and choke off their supply of air and nutrients.

In some eddies and protected inlets, the ochre-colored crude has pooled beneath the water’s surface, forming clumps several inches deep.

With the seafloor leak still gushing at least hundreds of thousands of gallons a day, the damage is only getting worse. Millions of gallons already have leaked so far.

Coast Guard officials said the spill’s impact now stretches across a 150-mile swath, from Dauphin Island, Ala., to Grand Isle, La.

Over time, experts say weather and natural microbes will break down most of the oil. However, the crude will surely poison plants and wildlife in the months — even years — it will take for the syrupy muck to dissipate.

Hundreds of miles of bayous and man-made canals crisscross the coast’s exterior, offering numerous entry points for the crude. Access is difficult and time-intensive, even in the best of circumstances.

“Just the compaction of humanity bringing equipment in, walking on them, will kill them,” said David White, a wetlands ecologist from Loyola University in New Orleans.

Marshes offer a vital line of defense against Gulf storms, blunting their fury before they hit populated areas. Louisiana and the federal government have spent hundreds of millions of dollars rebuilding barriers that were wiped out by hurricanes, notably Katrina in 2005.

They also act as nursery grounds for shrimp, crabs, oysters — the backbone of the region’s fishing industry. Hundreds of thousands of migratory birds nest in the wetlands’ inner reaches, a complex network of bayous, bays and man-made canals.


Richard Heckler 8 years ago

Carter had a powerful energy idea April 22, 2007|By Jay Hakes

Thirty years ago this month, a solemn Jimmy Carter sat behind the historic Resolute desk in the Oval Office to announce to a prime-time national television audience his new comprehensive energy plan. In the most memorable line of the evening, the president declared the challenge of energy "the moral equivalent of war."

The Carter energy strategy was both praised for its ambition (the written version had 113 parts) and derided for its interventionism -- critics tried to brand it with the acronym MEOW.

Contrary to common mythology, Carter was far from a lonely voice calling for strenuous action. After the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74, both of his predecessors, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, called energy the nation's top priority and set an ambitious goal for "energy independence" (eliminating reliance on foreign oil by 1980, no less).

New Speaker Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, D-Mass., gave energy such high priority that he immediately took the unprecedented step of establishing an omnibus committee headed by Rep. Thomas "Lud" Ashley, D-Ohio, to shepherd the complex Carter plan quickly through the House.

Congress scuttled Carter's recommended gasoline tax, and a bitter divide over natural gas deregulation in the Senate stalled the whole energy package for a year and a half. But with considerable support on both sides of the aisle, most of his plan did become law.

Similarly, when the Iranian revolution led to another severe oil shortage in 1979, Carter took the politically dangerous step of starting to decontrol crude oil prices by executive order and produced a flurry of energy bills, many of which also won eventual congressional approval.

Calls for energy independence continue to reverberate through the energy debates of today. On the whole, however, the rhetoric of that earlier era creates considerable dissonance for the modern ear.

In his address of April 18, 1977, Carter used the word "sacrifice" (or "sacrifices") eight times and argued: "Conservation is the quickest, cheapest, most practical source of energy." He repeatedly decried the "waste" of scarce fuels. Moreover, energy plans in the 1970s set bold goals and put meat on the bones to achieve them.

Nixon, Ford and Carter called for sharp drops in oil imports and Carter set a goal of obtaining a fifth of America's needs from renewable energy by the turn of the century. Ford and Congress set strict standards for automobile fuel efficiency to offset high-priced foreign oil.

The Reagan/Bush came into office. The wars for world oil control were off and running. DUMBO ECONOMICS!

Richard Heckler 8 years ago

The spectacle of British Petroleum literally killing off the Gulf of Mexico before our eyes while the Obama Administration apparently believes that BP is honorable enough to be trusted to dutifully clean it up is depressing beyond belief.

Hearing Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal complain about the lagging federal response after he built his political career trashing the federal government is just too pathetic and stupid to even bother to ridicule.

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