BP Oil Spill Aftermath (Part 2 of 2)

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series BP Oil Spill

And, now for some good news….

Last post, I started off my “BP Oil Spill Aftermath” report by citing the harsh realities facing local economies along the Gulf Coast. I then focused on the prevalent delays in oil drilling, despite Obama’s having lifted his ban against deep-water projects. One thing I did not discuss, however, was the ecological impact of the BP oil “spill”.oil spill cleanup on shore

So, how is the Gulf’s ecology now? Rather than try to summarize my reading, I’ll just let the Independent Institute’s Robert H. Nelson tell you what he found:

“Oddly enough, however, the ecosystem of the Gulf itself turns out to have suffered remarkably little damage from the continuous gushing of oil into the water from April 20 till July 15, when the leaking well was capped. One group of scientists rated the health of the Gulf’s ecology at 71 on a scale of 100 before the spill and 65 in October. By mid-August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was having trouble finding spilled oil. This squared with the finding of researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California that the half-life of much of the leaking oil was about three days. At that rate, more than 90 percent would have disappeared in 12 days.

NOAA explained one reason for this in a report in August: ‘It is well known that bacteria that break down the dispersed and weathered surface oil are abundant in the Gulf of Mexico in large part because of the warm water, the favorable nutrient and oxygen levels, and the fact that oil regularly enters the Gulf of Mexico through natural seeps.’ In other words, the organisms that normally live off the Gulf’s large natural seepage of oil into the water multiplied extremely rapidly and went on a feeding frenzy. Another 25 percent of the spilled oil —- the lightest and most toxic part -— simply evaporated at the surface or dissolved quickly.”

Isn’t that amazing?! Not to diminish the ugliness of the whole incident or the necessity for environmental care, etc., but it seems that “Nature” has it’s own ways of fixing these sorts of things. (The mark of a great Design, I say.) Oil is, after all, a natural substance, even in the ocean.

The Deep Horizon disaster was the largest oil “spill” in U.S. history, releasing nearly 20x as much oil as the Exxon Valdez. Yet, recovery is happening at a faster rate and overall ecological damage is much less. (More on that in a minute.) Nelson identifies additional factors that helped this time. First was depth. The recent leak occurred nearly a mile underwater, giving the bacteria more time to eat oil and multiply, while the oil floated to the surface. By contrast, the Exxon Valdez incident (like most true spills) dumped oil right on the surface. Second was distance. The Deepwater Horizon was 50 miles out to sea, so it took a while for the oil to reach the coastline, giving natural forces and manmade dispersants time to break up a lot of the oil. Much of what eventually hit land was in the form of tar balls, which are less eco-unfriendly and easier to clean up than an oil slick. In comparison, the Exxon Valdez spill occurred in Prince William Sound, a partially-enclosed inlet with several islands. That oil reached shore much more quickly and in more toxic forms. The water in and around the Sound is colder, has very little natural oil seepage and no oil-eating bacteria. Plus, there were many more mammals in the area than in the Gulf.

oil-covered bird“Damage to wildlife, too, was relatively sparse. As of November 2, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that 2,263 oil-soiled bird remains had been collected in the Gulf, far fewer than the 225,000 birds killed by the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989. Despite fears for turtles, only 18 dead oil-soiled turtles had been found. No other reptile deaths were recorded. While more than 1,000 sea otters alone had died in the Alaska spill, only 4 oil-soiled mammals (including dolphins) had been found dead in the Gulf region. These are very small numbers relative to the base populations. Similarly, government agencies were unable to find any evidence of dead fish. Fish can simply swim away from trouble. Nor was evidence found of contamination of live fish. In one government test, 2,768 chemical analyses uncovered no signs of contamination.

In the latest irony, marine biologists this fall have actually been seeing surprising increases in some fish populations. It seems that the closure of large areas of the Gulf to fishing amounted to an unplanned experiment in fisheries management. [Heh!] According to Sean Powers, a University of South Alabama marine biologist, ‘It’s just been amazing how many more sharks we are seeing this year. I didn’t believe it at first.’ He attributed the change to the ‘incredible reduction in fishing pressure,’ and added, ‘What’s interesting to me [is that] we are seeing it across the whole range, from the shrimp and small croaker all the way up to the large sharks.'”

The amount of oil that eventually reached beaches was much less than we had been told to fear — largely by environmental activists and their MSM mouthpieces. (See Part 1.)

“Even where oil did reach beaches, human cleanup and natural processes typically removed most of it quickly. By early November, a federal spokesman found a continuing presence of ‘heavy oil’ on 30 miles of the total 580 miles of Gulf beaches where oil had come ashore.

After all the predictions of ecological disaster in the spring, government officials have been searching hard for more evidence of harm. In early November, a Penn State marine biologist announced that he had finally found a ‘smoking gun’: dead and dying coral reefs in 4,500 feet of water not far from the spill site. Coral in shallower waters and farther from the site was unaffected….

It is —- or should be —- embarrassing that the predicted disaster failed to materialize.”

Now, from the title of this blog and the pro-conservative tone, you might think my meta-message here is, “I told you so,” or that Republicans in general had any better idea what to expect than Democrats. Wrong. For the most part, this isn’t a partisan issue. Nobody really knew for sure what the impact would be. But, as mentioned in the preceding post, the degree of “social hysteria” about the whole thing was, sadly, heightened and prolonged by the MSM and a clueless administration, both of whom listened more to environmental activists than to true — or, at least, less agenda-driven — experts. And, all indications are that their predictions of long-term & widespread catastrophe were largely overblown. (Even the ecological impact of the Exxon Valdez spill was rapidly disappearing within five years; today it’s mostly gone.)

As I said at the beginning of this series, the true victims of this whole disaster are the people trying to maintain their livelihoods along the Gulf. If the above good news can get more widely promoted, rather than the questionable predictions of doom-n-gloom, maybe the Gulf Coast economy can get a lift. Maybe businesses can start getting their financial legs back under them, people can get their jobs back, and things in the Gulf can start getting back to normal.

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