BP Oil Spill: Where’s the oil?

Fox commentator asks “where’s the oil?”

Breathtakingly denialistic. Not just asking “where’s the oil,” but saying we’ll have to wait and see if it this spill is bigger than Exxon Valdez – (a) there’s universal agreement that it’s going to be much bigger, and (b) what a sterile argument – even if it were a bit smaller, it is still clearly big enough to be a disaster. (Thanks to Roger Ebert’s twittering for bringing this video to my attention.)

One answer to the deranged question “where’s the oil” – actually, a whole series of answers – is provided by a very useful, and disturbing, post on thedailygreen.com. They provide a series of photographs and video clips of the BP oil spill, and also a number of graphical representations of the spill that aid in grasping its full extent, such as this one, showing the oil spill overlaid on a Google Earth image of the New York area:

Gulf Oil Spill Photos – Video: 7 Shocking Ways to Visualize the Gulf Oil Spill — Photos, Video and Beyond

Apps, graphics, photos and video of the unfolding environmental disaster. Be prepared to be moved to action.

(via thedailygreen.com.)

As to the extent of BP’s oil spill, numerous articles, reports and scientific studies have weighed in; the only thing we still need to “wait and see” about, despite that Fox commentator’s suggestion and the astounding resistance of the BP flacks, is just how much bigger than Exxon Valdez this spill will end up being:

Guess how much oil is spilling into the Gulf of Mexico: “There’s a new game in town: guess how many barrels of oil are gushing from BP’s ruptured well into the Gulf of Mexico every day.

Using video showing the movement of oil spewing from the well, mechanical engineer Steven Wereley of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, estimates that the well is losing 70,000 barrels of oil a day. That’s equivalent to an Exxon Valdez disaster every four days, and more than 10 times the 5000 barrels a day estimated by BP.

“We are not recognising these numbers at all,” a spokesperson for BP told New Scientist. The oil company maintains there is no reliable way to measure the oil spill by analysing oil moving out of the pipe. Really?

(via Short Sharp Science.)

(This item comes from a new feature/blog/feed on the website for New Scientist – which I generally find to be extremely useful – called “Short Sharp Science” – the name an obvious play on the phrase “short sharp shock.” Which is appropriate because it tends to feature a “shock” style of journalism which I think does a disservice to New Scientist and to the issues they cover. They have used sensationalistic and somewhat misleading headlines for serious climate change issues, and here they make a sort of joke out of the oil spill. Actually, it is not so much the joke aspect that bothers me as the fact that describing attempts to estimate the full extent of the oil spill as “a game,” even simply as an attention-grabber, tends to trivial these efforts and cast into doubt the whole enterprise – lending “aid and comfort” to brain-damaged clowns like the Fox commentator, Brit Hume. He can go on the intellectually airless void of Fox News and say that New Scientist describes attempts to estimate the extent of the spill as “a game.”)

It’s not just the idiot ideologues at Fox and venal BP spokespersons who are underestimating, downplaying or dismissing the full extent of the oil spill. According to a story on NPR, even the “official” government estimates may be drastically inadequate. Scientists studying all the available data on the spill are coming up with figures that show it may be as much as 10 times greater than those official estimates, perhaps even more:

Gulf Oil Spill May Far Exceed Government, BP Estimates: “The amount of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico may be at least 10 times the size of official estimates, according to an exclusive analysis conducted for NPR.

At NPR’s request, experts examined video that BP released Wednesday. Their findings suggest the BP spill is already far larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska, which spilled at least 250,000 barrels of oil.

BP has said repeatedly that there is no reliable way to measure the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by looking at the oil gushing out of the pipe. But scientists say there are actually many proven techniques for doing just that.

via Gulf Oil Spill May Far Exceed Government, BP Estimates : NPR.

I was a bit surprised, but not astonished, to find people like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck raising the spectre of conspiracy in relation to the disaster at the oil rig. What did astonish me was this – a poll showing that ten percent of Americans think environmentalists may be behind the disaster:

Poll: Ten percent of Americans believe environmentalists intentionally caused oil spill: “Ten percent of Americans believe environmentalists intentionally sabotaged the oil rig Deepwater Horizon off the Gulf Coast according to a poll released Tuesday, apparently as part of a ploy to reduce Americans’ support for offshore drilling.

(via Raw Story.)

It’s hard to believe this, to fathom how deluded conspiracy theories like this could gain any credence whatsoever. The only explanation is the traction that people like Beck and Limbaugh have with a significant segment of the public. Which is deeply disturbing, a disaster whose long-term implications may be more profound and toxic even than the oil spill. It highlights the danger of having such extensive public platforms given over to people who are willing to say just about anything. If they go too far, they can always retract or apologize – but as we have seen time and time again, those retractions never fully undo the effects of the original statement, and frequently come far too late. It also points to the need for continued engagement in the public sphere, for the daily, hourly effort of rebutting these people and putting out real information, and different perspectives.

One website that does a good job of this – though not of course to an audience like that of Fox – is TomDispatch.com, “a regular antidote to the mainstream media,” which has an excellent discussion of the evolving oil spill crisis:

The Oil Rush to Hell: “It took President Obama 24 days to finally get publicly angry and “rip” into BP and its partners for the catastrophic oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. What was he waiting for? The pattern has been obvious enough: however bad you thought it was, or anyone said it was at any given moment, it’s worse (and will get worse yet). Just take the numbers.

For a more hopeful and positive story out of the oil spill, there’s this, from TreeHugger:

14 Year-old Girl Confronts BP for Lack of Oil Spill Education Efforts: “at a tense town hall-style meeting that gathered fishermen, federal officials, and BP reps to discuss the latest on the disaster, one participant took all of the parties by surprise. A 14-year old girl named Lauren Spaulding confidently stepped up to the mic during the Q+A — the only young person to do so — and confronted BP about its lack of initiative to educate children about the spill.

Spaulding was polite but direct when she asked BP what it was doing to educate young people about the spill or to provide teaching materials to schools, and she quickly won over the crowd. She pointed out that kids are concerned about the spill too, and want to learn more about what’s going on and how they can help. They’re worried about the environment and their parents’ livelihoods, she said.

(via TreeHugger.)

The spill threw the Obama Administration’s plans to extend offshore oil drilling into disarray, but the information coming out in the wake of the spill has shown how lucky this was – though it is perverse to speak of luck in this context – that it happened now, when it could bring the whole process into question rather than later. We are finding out about a systematic failure of safety and oversight, by the companies involved and the government agencies responsible:

BP Safety Violations: OSHA Says Company Has ‘Systemic Safety Problem’: “A Washington-based research group says two BP refineries in the U.S. account for 97 percent of “egregious willful” violations given by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The study by the Center for Public Integrity says the violations were found in the last three years in BP’s Texas City refinery and another plant in Toledo, Ohio. In 2005, 15 people were killed in an explosion at the Texas City refinery.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jordan Barab says BP has a “systemic safety problem.”

BP Safety Violations: Has Paid A Only A Pittance In Fines.MMS’ fines against BP have been the equivalent of a rounding error. From 1998 through 2007 “when MMS issued its last fine against the company” BP has paid less than $580,000 in penalties for its 12 safety violations.

Environmental groups say this simply isn’t enough.

(via The Huffington Post.)

Where do we go from here? Obviously, and thankfully (again, a bit perverse in this context), offshore oil drilling in the United States has been seriously called into question. But if the effect of this disaster is that we continue to source most of our oil from overseas, including from offshore rigs elsewhere, while also continuing to consume oil at roughly the same rate, all we will have done is shift the problem of oil spills like this to other people’s shores (NIMBY) while still having the danger – the likelihood – of other Exxon Valdez-type spills here. The tremendous damage – human, animal, ecological, and economic – of this spill has to add to the growing weight of argument for a shift to (1) non-polluting and renewable forms of energy, and (2) a fundamental change in patterns of lifestyle and consumption to reduce our dependence on substances and processes that are polluting our planet and rapidly diminishing the long-term sustainability of human civilization.

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