The BP oil spill: a disaster of epic proportions
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The BP oil spill: a disaster of epic proportions

June 3, 2010, 6:58 am
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The full extent of the damage may not be known for years
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By Reynold N. Mason

On April 22, 2010 BP’s Deepwater oil rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven of the workers on board the rig were lost.  Ironically, April 22 was earth day.  Since the explosion, crude oil has been gushing into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico at the rate of 200,000 gallons a day by Bp’s estimate.  Thus far, all efforts to staunch the flow of oil in the gulf have failed.  The economic and ecological impact of this catastrophe is immeasurable.   BP has to date, spent over $I billion on its failed attempts to cap the gusher. But the ultimate economic impact on the environment and on the lives on those who make their livelihood off the sea will, in the long term, be devastating.

 Experience with the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska back in 1989 has taught us that this catastrophe has immediate as well as long term consequences for the environment. Until now, the biggest spill in US history, the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million barrels of crude into the pristine waters  off the coast of Alaska, spreading oil over 900 miles of Alaska shoreline.  The present spill has already surpassed this is size and scope.   The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in a recent study of Exxon Valdez disaster found that 26,000 gallons of oil still remains in the sands of the Alaska shoreline, 20 years after the spill.  Scientists have determined that the residual oil is declining at the rate of 4 per cent per year. At this rate, the oil from the 1989 spill will be on Alaska’s shores for another 25 years.

Oil is poison to birds. It coats their feathers making it impossible for the birds to fly.  The National Wildlife Federation says that it has recovered the carcasses of 150 species of turtles and 316 sea birds.  Sea lions, otters and other species of marine animals are also dying from the toxins in the crude.   The spill has damaged the beaches, and marshlands in the gulf area.  Photos of the Louisiana marshlands show that the oil coats everything it touches, rocks, sand, and plants.  Animals that feed on the plants die or seek food elsewhere. Worse still, as we have learned from the Exxon Valdez, oil sinks to the ocean floor killing and contaminating fish and smaller organisms that are part of the food chain, such as crab’s lobsters.  Smaller marine animals are food for larger ones and the poison passes from species to species for years. Larger animals in the area, dolphins , seals , otters and even whales are impacted.  The National Wildlife Federation says the oil coats the animals and clogs their breathing holes leaving them susceptible to hypothermia and disease.

The oil moves with the wind and currents making it a hazard to Florida beaches, the entire East Coast, Cuba, and parts of Mexico according to the US Department of the Interior.  Recreational fishing and tourism business are suffering and, Reuters reports that all fishing in 25 percent of the gulf is closed.  The $6.5 billion seafood industry is in peril.  The US government does to have the technology to stop the spill so the task rests with BP.  How much oil is still gushing from the  broken pipe on the floor of the seabed 50 miles south of Venice Louisiana, however, remains in question. Millions of gallons of crude have spewed into the Gulf, and some scientists have said they believe the spill already surpasses the 11 million-gallon 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaskan coast, as the worst in US history. Steven Worley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering from Purdue University, told Congress on Wednesday that by using a technique called particle image velocimetry, he estimated the well could be spewing 90,000 barrels of oil daily into the gulf – 70,000 from the main breach and another 25,000 from another hole in the pipe. Dr. Ian MacDonald, an Oceanographer from Florida State University using satellite imaging has estimated the gusher is likely close to 60,000 barrels a day.  One barrel of oil is 42 gallons.  According to a report by the Mobile Emergency Water Treatment and Disinfection Unit, an arm of UASID, it takes just one quart of oil to pollute 150,000 gallons of water.  Clearly, by any estimate of the size of the spill this is a disaster of epic proportions. The final verdict on the devastation will have to await future reckoning.

The Senate Energy and Natural Recourses committee last week say it will hold Bp “fully accountable “for the disaster but in the words Preside

Author: Reynold Mason
Reynold N. Mason teaches law courses at Zenover Educational Institute In Atlanta, Georgia. He has been a judge on New York City Civil Court and, a Justice on New York State Supreme Court. Mason has been an adjunct professor of law at Medgar Evers College and Monroe College in New York. He has authored several legal opinions published in New York Miscellaneous Reports and New York Official Reports as well as the New York Law Journal. He lives in Atlanta.
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