(Note: this is kind of a compliment to Magnifico’s Next Big Oil Spill Disaster Set for the Arctic.- ek)
This is kind of a tough story to assemble because the images are graphic and disturbing. Just warning you before you click through on the links.
A lot of people are talking about Al-Jazzera’s story on the horrible consequences of the BP Oil Disaster on the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem-
Gulf seafood deformities alarm scientists
Dahr Jamail, Al-Jazzera
Last Modified: 18 Apr 2012 03:16
“The dispersants used in BP’s draconian experiment contain solvents, such as petroleum distillates and 2-butoxyethanol. Solvents dissolve oil, grease, and rubber,” Dr Riki Ott, a toxicologist, marine biologist and Exxon Valdez survivor told Al Jazeera. “It should be no surprise that solvents are also notoriously toxic to people, something the medical community has long known”.
The dispersants are known to be mutagenic, a disturbing fact that could be evidenced in the seafood deformities. Shrimp, for example, have a life-cycle short enough that two to three generations have existed since BP’s disaster began, giving the chemicals time to enter the genome.
Pathways of exposure to the dispersants are inhalation, ingestion, skin, and eye contact. Health impacts can include headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pains, chest pains, respiratory system damage, skin sensitisation, hypertension, central nervous system depression, neurotoxic effects, cardiac arrhythmia and cardiovascular damage. They are also teratogenic – able to disturb the growth and development of an embryo or fetus – and carcinogenic.
Cowan believes chemicals named polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), released from BP’s submerged oil, are likely to blame for what he is finding, due to the fact that the fish with lesions he is finding are from “a wide spatial distribution that is spatially coordinated with oil from the Deepwater Horizon, both surface oil and subsurface oil. A lot of the oil that impacted Louisiana was also in subsurface plumes, and we think there is a lot of it remaining on the seafloor”.
(Dr. Andrew) Whitehead’s (associate professor of biology at Louisiana State University) work is of critical importance, as it shows a direct link between BP’s oil and the negative impacts on the Gulf’s food web evidenced by studies on killifish before, during and after the oil disaster.
“What we found is a very clear, genome-wide signal, a very clear signal of exposure to the toxic components of oil that coincided with the timing and the locations of the oil,” Whitehead told Al Jazeera during an interview in his lab.
According to Whitehead, the killifish is an important indicator species because they are the most abundant fish in the marshes, and are known to be the most important forage animal in their communities.
“That means that most of the large fish that we like to eat and that these are important fisheries for, actually feed on the killifish,” he explained. “So if there were to be a big impact on those animals, then there would probably be a cascading effect throughout the food web. I can’t think of a worse animal to knock out of the food chain than the killifish.”
But we may well be witnessing the beginnings of this worst-case scenario.
Whitehead is predicting that there could be reproductive impacts on the fish, and since the killifish is a “keystone” species in the food web of the marsh, “Impacts on those species are more than likely going to propagate out and effect other species. What this shows is a very direct link from exposure to DWH oil and a clear biological effect. And a clear biological effect that could translate to population level long-term consequences.”
Back on shore, troubled by what he had been seeing, Keath Ladner met with officials from the US Food and Drug Administration and asked them to promise that the government would protect him from litigation if someone was made sick from eating his seafood.
“They wouldn’t do it,” he said.
What is Al-Jazeera’s special expertise in this story? The Persian Gulf has been experiencing the toxic effects of oil spills for nearly a century.
There’s no way that every one of these mutated fish was caught before it ended up on a dinner plate. I don’t know what that means for humans who consume them; the process of cooking may have removed some of the toxics. But I am no longer hankering for Gulf sushi. And the Gulf of Mexico provides 40% of all seafood consumed in the US, so it’s not really “Gulf” sushi at all.
Scientists know enough about dispersants to say fairly confidently that they’re causing the mutations in the Gulf. I’m sure the American Petroleum Institute can find some who think otherwise. And the office of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, contacted for the story, claimed that “Gulf seafood has consistently tested lower than the safety thresholds established by the FDA for the levels of oil and dispersant contamination that would pose a risk to human health.”
At Naked Capitalism George Washington has an excellent post with many, many links to the terrible damage that has already been documented-
George Washington: 2 Years After the BP Oil Spill, Is the Gulf Ecosystem Collapsing?
By Washington’s Blog, Naked Capitalism
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Mother Jones points out that the White House pressured scientists to underestimate BP spill size. And see this Forbes write up, and our previous reporting on the topic.
This is exactly like Fukushima and the financial mess, because government’s approach to crises is consistent, no matter what area we are talking about: let the giant companies which fund political campaigns do whatever they want … and then help them cover up the extent of the crisis once it inevitably hits.
And what is BP doing about it? Extend and Pretend, because that’s working oh so well.
The Big Spill, Two Years Later
The New York Times
Published: April 17, 2012
BP has paid $14 billion in cleanup costs and $6.3 billion in damages to individuals and businesses, with another $7.8 billion pledged. The company is also likely to owe several billion dollars for damages to natural resources under the Oil Pollution Act, and somewhere between $5 billion and $20 billion in penalties under the Clean Water Act, depending on the level of negligence.
BP may well prefer a negotiated settlement of these damages to a long and potentially damaging trial. If so, the Justice Department should press for the best possible deal from what is still a deep-pocketed company. Congress must make sure that the bulk of this money is used not only to address particular damage from the spill but to carry out a broad program of ecosystem restoration – the wetlands and barrier islands that had been weakened well before the spill by industrialization and mismanagement of the Mississippi River and by Hurricane Katrina.
BP proposes Gulf spill accord terms, trial delay
By Jonathan Stempel, Reuters
Wed Apr 18, 2012 4:16pm EDT
If BP wins a trial delay, the schedule suggests that any trial on federal and state government pollution claims, claims against BP’s drilling partners, and claims among BP and those partners would not start until well into 2013, if not later.
“States represent millions of citizens, and they deserve their day in court,” Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, who coordinates state interests with his Louisiana colleague James “Buddy” Caldwell, said in a telephone interview.
“I think quite frankly that BP is not going to focus on a comprehensive settlement until it is up against a trial deadline,” Strange added.
The medical settlement addresses claims by people made ill from exposure to oil or chemical dispersants. It covers clean-up workers and residents of beachfront or wetland areas, and allows people who develop symptoms later to sue BP at that time. About 16,000 plaintiffs have submitted claims, court papers show.
Victims who are unhappy with the settlements may opt out and pursue their claims separately.
Those ineligible to recover include financial institutions, casinos, people claiming hardship from an Obama administration moratorium on deepwater drilling, and some private plaintiffs in Florida and Texas.
“Neither side will receive everything it wants,” but the settlements are “more than fair, reasonable and adequate” and could avert a decade of litigation, BP and plaintiffs’ lawyers said in papers filed in New Orleans federal court.
“BP made a commitment to help economic and environmental restoration efforts in the Gulf Coast,” Chief Executive Bob Dudley said in a statement. “This settlement provides the framework for us to continue delivering on that promise, offering those affected full and fair compensation, without waiting for the outcome of a lengthy trial process.”
Prior to the settlement, the lawyer Kenneth Feinberg had paid out $6.1 billion to spill victims who submitted claims under BP’s $20 billion Gulf Coast Claims Facility.
BP expects the $7.8 billion payment to come from that trust. Claimants with final offers from Feinberg can receive 60 percent of their money now, and if eligible under the new program may receive the remaining 40 percent or seek higher awards.
BP still faces tens of billions of dollars of potential claims from the U.S. government; Gulf states; and drilling partners Transocean Ltd, which owned the rig, and Halliburton Co, which provided cementing services.
The oil company’s potential liability for violating the federal Clean Water Act alone could reach as high as $17.6 billion upon a finding of gross negligence. BP has already taken a $37.2 billion charge for the spill.
Your tax dollars at work-
Congress falls short on oil spill safety, panel says
By Neela Banerjee, Washington Bureau, L.A. Times
April 17, 2012, 6:24 p.m.
The report by members of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling complained that Congress had failed to pass legislation requiring the offshore oil and gas industry to bear the costs of federal oversight through fees on leasing and permitting reviews. The presidential panel had also recommended that the $75-million liability cap for offshore oil spills be increased substantially.
The Democratic-controlled Senate has passed a bill to funnel penalties from the spill to restoring the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem, but House Republicans have yet to approve it.
Several recent developments signal the need for more serious steps to bolster offshore drilling safeguards, the report said. In the last 10 months, “at least three offshore oil and gas rigs around the world have experienced significant leaks, demonstrating again and again how risky this activity is,” the report said. “Risks will only increase as drilling moves into deeper waters with harsher, less familiar environmental conditions.”
Some senior administration and congressional staffers complained that the report used simple letter grades to sum up complicated efforts.
And as usual, Magnifico scooped me on that story too-
U.S. oil production is increasing and offshore drilling is expanding, but yet the problems that contributed to the BP Gulf oil disaster remain. “It is unfortunate that two years after the worst oil spill in U.S. history, Congress has yet to take action to bolster the government’s program for managing offshore activities,” the commission wrote in their report card.
With increased drilling and intentionally negligent oversight, it isn’t a matter of if there will be another oil drilling disaster off the American waters, but when it will happen. The environment and people who depend on it for their existence, which is everyone, will be negatively impacted. With the inevitable oil spills, the commission reports that “Congress has provided little support” for spill response and containment too. So, the country remains unready to respond to the next disaster.
So, while the Obama administration has been opening up more areas for drilling, the Republican-controlled House and the ineffective Senate have been at best doing nothing to responsibly oversee offshore oil drilling and at worst been proactively trying block oversight.
The commission is being generous when it gave Congress a “D” grade. “Congress has provided neither leadership nor support for these efforts,” the commission wrote summarizing nearly two years of inaction.
We need to do better electing people to represent us and our nation’s interests. More oil at the expense of our country’s environment is not the solution.