by The Forsythkid
An oil spill like the one owned by BP that occurred due to a blowout last week on a platform 52 miles from the southern coast of the US has resulted in the copious release of liquid petroleum hydrocarbons into the environment. To the rest of us, crude oil and for bird and aquatic life, a real bastard to contend with. Depending on how soon the leak can be brought under control, this event may well rise to become one of the largest natural disasters in recent memory. And, while finger pointing has now been going on for some time, I’m sure the buck will eventually stop on the president’s desk. This may well even eclipse the Katrina disaster the former president face years before. The fact is, not enough checks and balances were in place. Period. It is the sole responsibility of the Federal government to insure that, should an accident of this nature occur, enough resources can be brought to bear to correct it. While the initial response was swift, it is now evident that few if any ‘fallback’ procedures were in place. Procedures to insure protection of the very sensitive environment that existed just a few nautical miles away. This has not happened and not even the Valdez oil spill some decades ago was sufficient enough of a lesson. Now, damage to the coastline is a certainty and some are questioning the ability of the United States to stop this leak before it gets so large that it will make its way into the Atlantic basin.
The devastating effects on wildlife are already being observed. As the oil washes up onto the coastal areas it gets onto and then penetrates the feathers of birds, reducing its insulating ability dramatically. In so doing, it makes the birds more vulnerable to temperature fluctuations and much less buoyant in the water. It also impairs birds’ flight abilities to forage and escape from predators. As if that were not bad enough, as they attempt to preen, many birds will typically ingest the oil that covers their feathers, causing kidney damage, altered liver function, and digestive tract irritation. This fact combined with limited foraging ability quickly causes dehydration and metabolic imbalances. Most birds that come into contact with the oil die unless there is human intervention.
Even large marine mammals are being affected in similar ways. Oil gets into the fur of Sea otters and seals, reducing its insulation abilities and leading to body temperature fluctuations and hypothermia. Ingestion of the oil causes dehydration and impaired digestions. Once again this disrupts the delicate balance of nature in the area.
Finally, because oil floats on top of water, less light penetrates into the water, limiting the photosynthesis of marine plants and phytoplankton. This, as well as decreasing the fauna populations, affects the food chain in the ecosystem. While the last point may not seem like much, remember that the entire aquatic food chain of the coast depends on a relative narrow space just off the beach to support much of the life that exists in the waters of the Gulf.
It’s high time America took a second look at where and how they are drilling. We are decades away from realizing the benefits of alternative energy sources and the sad reality is that, for now, we must continue drilling. The question that must be addressed is where that drilling takes place. There are vast reserves of oil in regions of shallow water where problems like this can be totally avoided. It’s sad to think how ignorant our government looks now in retrospect when they pushed for deep water drilling in an effort to protect the environment, and as a result, have guaranteed just the opposite.