Damages from this slick aren't going away
The sight of a dead, oil-slicked pelican, splashed across a page of The New York Times earlier this week choked me up. And I've seen a few other shots of paralyzed birds and animals that have been equally disturbing.
All this from the horrors of an offshore rig explosion just over a month ago. But we all know that Louisiana will be feeling the gooey aftershocks for probably months or years to come.
After 11 people lost their lives in the British Petroleum (BP) rig explosion, the blowout preventing device that was supposed to seal the leakage of oil into the Gulf of Mexico failed and now 70 miles of Louisiana coastline, fish, birds and wildlife are paying the price. But the swath of oozing oil cuts so much deeper.
According to The New York Times, "In the last week, the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico has revealed itself to an angry and desperate public, smearing tourist beaches, washing onto the shorelines of sleepy coastal communities and oozing into marshy bays that fisherman have worked for generations. It has even announced its arrival on the Louisiana coast with a fittingly ugly symbol: brown pelicans, the state bird, dyed with crude."
All I could think about was that horrible chant, "Drill, baby, drill," that peppered the last presidential campaign. I wonder now if that chant will be our cross to bear for disturbing natural resources and being reckless in the process? Will tragedies like this become more common, leaving behind more deadly oil slicks to destroy the beauty of our natural resources, fish and wildlife, along with the livelihoods of so many who have already been hit hard by this recession?
I was less than impressed by BP's senior management who offered to pay for "reasonable" damages without elaborating on what those reasonable damages would include. The CEO kept repeating, "We will pay for reasonable damages," on the news program I listened to earlier this week.
"Big deal," I thought to myself. No matter how much the remuneration may be, there is no real dollar amount that can make up for the loss of birds, fish and animals; tourism dollars or lifetime family businesses along the Louisiana coastline all the way down to Florida.
I read that a fish and wildlife official said that 156 sea turtles -- about 100 more than usual for this time of year had already died and more than 23 birds had already died from the spill. It was small consolation that just 7 oily birds of different types were airlifted to the Key National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. I shudder to think of how many others won't be that lucky in the coming days and weeks.
I was stunned to hear how little oil it takes to paralyze a bird's wings and keep it from flying. And then there were the reports of the loss of unhatched pelican eggs, trapped in molasses-like pools of goopy crude oil. That was heartbreaking.
On the challenge of dispersing this deadly oil, my understanding is that the hoped-for solution to this tragedy has huge environmental obstacles of its own. For instance, The New York Times indicated that an Environmental Protection Agency official, "called BP's safety data on dispersants insufficient and said government scientists would conduct their own tests to decide which dispersant was best to use. She said the amount of chemicals applied to control the oil spilling from the Deepwater Horizon well -- more than 700,000 gallons -- was approaching a world's record."
Meanwhile, while innocent birds, wildlife and fish suffer, the finger pointing and call for accountability keeps coming from all different directions, including the president, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and British Petroleum itself. And the Swiss company, Transocean, that provided the oil rig, is in also in the line of fire, because of the failure of the blowout preventer on the rig that led to the spill.
I think most Americans are feeling a general sense of helplessness in the wake of this horrific oil spill and such empathy for the state of Louisiana, which has been trying to bounce back in the years following Hurricane Katrina. At least with Katrina, we could do something. With this gooey mess, we can only stand by, paralyzed, while life oozes out of the Louisiana marshlands as quickly as the crude oozes in.
And no one can predict the next steps or whether the oil disbursement will succeed. We can only hope that will happen. And even if the oil is stopped, what will be the long-term effects on our natural resources. I don't think anyone can answer that question right now or even for the near term. This is just a horrible, man-made catastrophe.
Steven Gaynes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.