A rant on BP and the oil spill

 From: Alex Aflalo ’12
Published: December 4, 2011


The great oceans enrobe our planet in a blanket of life. In their depths are written miracles. A scale of diversity almost impossible to comprehend…color, form, and function linked together in wondrous ways. But humankind has not yet learned to appreciate the gifts of the earth. Like a greedy child he takes up all the bounty of the seas at once, as if entitled…then throws his wastes in the same plate from which he gathers his food. I am speaking, of course, of multi-national industrial corporations, such as, not to point fingers…BP. The Deepwater Horizon Oil spill was perhaps the greatest man-made disaster in history. Yet, the true tragedy is that this very same incident occurred 40 years ago—at the fault of the same drilling company. In 1979 Sedco inc., the predecessor to Transocean Ltd. (which owns the Deepwater Horizon rig), was running an operation in the gulf, just off of Ciudad Del Carmen in the bay of Campeche. There was an accident…a terrible accident in which the well erupted, sending millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf. The company tried for days, and then weeks, to stanch the flow. They tried stuffing it with garbage, filling it with mud, and eventually constructed an immense multi-ton cone to smother it. It took nearly five months for the well to be plugged….the incompetency of their efforts is astounding. But of course, this quaint little corporation was not about to leave its fans without an encore. Less than two years ago, BP managed to pull off a second showing of this horror show. For several months over 200 million gallons of oil gushed into the marine breadbasket of America. BP claimed that they were doing the best they could to stem the flow. Considering that the same methods were employed four decades ago, I find this claim slightly contentious. Now, I’m not here to tell you what you likely already know, which is that private interests go about their business virtually unregulated by the government, wreaking havoc upon the earth from which we derive our very lives. But that the disaster is not over, the oil is still there, sitting at the bottom of the sea, poisoning the ecosystem from the bottom up.

BP’s final solution to cleaning up the gulf oil spill was to spray affected areas with what is known in the industry as a dispersant. This chemical acts to join all the suspended oil droplets together so it can be easily scooped up and burned. Miraculously this effort seemed to work, as oil began to disappear from the surface. Of course that’s not the whole story. As seems to be the case with most things these days, if an issue doesn’t appear to affect you, then it is no longer an issue. If one can no longer see the oil in the water, then it must no longer be a problem, right? It is true that dispersants cause droplets of oil to clump together so they can be easier to collect.  However it is also true that one of the primary components in dispersants is Benzene, a known human carcinogen.  After being sprayed with dispersants the vast majority of the oil sank to the bottom of the ocean, coating the sea bed with not just crude oil, but cancer-causing chemicals. In terms of the health of the Gulf and the health of those consuming seafood from the Gulf, this was probably the worst thing that could have happened. Marine ecosystems don’t just work from the top down, feeding off of vast quantities of sun-loving plankton, but from the bottom up as well. Countless invertebrates and crustaceans live at the bottom of the sea, including shrimp which live near the bottom as filter feeders. These crustaceans are then consumed by bottom feeding fish like mullet and flounder which in turn, are chock full of oil. Unfortunately, even if you avoid tainted shrimp and bottom feeding fish from the gulf, you can still be poisoned by its effects: The north Atlantic Bluefin tuna, one of the largest and most majestic fish in the sea, reaching up to 14 feet in length and 1500 pounds is under dire threat. Fished down to nearly 10% of its former numbers, this fish is actually split into two separate populations. A European population, which spawns in the Mediterranean and a North American population, which spawns…you guessed it, in the Gulf of Mexico. If you didn’t already know this, Bluefin tuna, that wonderful red-fleshed fish we love oh so much in sushi, was recently up for election as an endangered species this past May. However, the Obama administration declined to grant the dying breed such a status. In closing I implore you, dear reader, for the sake of the planet’s and your own personal health, to try to make the right consumer choices. Firstly, to abstain from tuna: I ask you this not just in light of the well known presence of mercury in their flesh which is a neurotoxin. Not just because, as of late, they are also tainted with benzene—but because these magnificent giants of the open ocean are an endangered species, and may never again roam the blue expanses of our earth if we do not change our ways. Secondly, I ask you to abstain as much as possible from shrimp, not just because out of all marine species they are harvested in one of the most environmentally-destructive ways (immense nets miles long which ensnare everything in their path), but because much American-caught shrimp comes from the Gulf, and is unsafe for one’s own health. I will now ask just one more thing – to take a pledge with me not to ever use a plastic bag or plastic bottle again, as a boycott against petroleum. I strongly suggest investing in a metal canteen and re-usable cloth bags. Come on, canteens look way more badass than Poland spring bottles anyway.

Remember the spill, remember the enemy, and please…the next time you sea, sorry, I mean see, a can of tuna or a box of sushi, please say no….to consuming a poisoned king.