Sun Aug 19, 2018 | 14:22
And Oil Covered the Face of the Deep
Tue, 11 May 2010 14:40:10 GMT
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by Tahereh Ghanaati

Just imagine - you've been working hard all week and by the time the weekend rolls around, you're totally stressed. What better way to unwind than to spend your Sunday afternoon at the beach. Just the thought of the hiss and purl of those lazy waves, gently washing the shore is enough to relax you and send your stress, with the ebbing tide, far out to sea.

With such thoughts in mind, you quickly fill an ice chest and picnic basket, bundle your family into the car and head for the coast.

Your first glimpse of that beautiful water, sparkling like a fistful of sapphires in the sun, tells you that your choice was the right one. Though the beach is crowded with other Sunday picnickers, you manage to find an empty spot and stake your claim. Your Latina wife stretches out the picnic blanket, while you grab your CD player and 'crank up the tunes.' Your wife gets out the Coppertone and starts smearing sunscreen on the kids. As soon as they can dodge her ministrations, your son grabs his boogie board and your little daughter, her inflatable seahorse life preserver and both children hit the surf.

You lie back and relax. Just another lazy Sunday at the beach, right? Wrong! The first sign of trouble comes when your wife calls your daughter to come out of the water for lunch. You have fired up the 'barbie' and the fajitas have begun to brown. Your wife has begun unpacking the picnic basket and the kids are still playing in the surf. The little girl reluctantly ambles over, looking like a miniature Medusa with her face set in a fierce scowl and her candy floss hair a dripping mess of knots. Your wife abandons the pack of tortillas she had been opening and grabs a comb. Plopping the child firmly down on the blanket, she goes to work on the tangles. The kid starts to whine and you notice that her flaxen locks are peppered with little black flecks that look like fleas. Your wife soon throws down the comb in disgust.

"I can't get these tangles out, mi 'jita," she informs the child. "We're just going to have to cut your hair." The kid's wails become screams of terror and you take a closer look at her hair. You immediately see what the problem is. Those little black dots aren't just adorning the baby fine strands. They're actually gluing them together. You manage to pluck one of the things out of your daughter's hair. It's sticky like tar.

Just then your son comes up, drawn by the aroma of the sizzling meat. You see that he is similarly dusted with the little black dots. That's when you take a closer look at the water and the beach. Both are littered with the sticky, black globules, ranging in size from the tiniest flea to a golf ball. Most are the size of black pebbles and each breaking wave deposits more.

Your halcyon day at the beach has been rudely interrupted and though you don't yet realize it, the idyllic seascape will soon be transformed into a greasy, nightmare vista. The massive, Gulf of Mexico oil spill has reached the Texas coast.

British Petroleum's (BP) Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is considered by many to be the worst incident of its type in US history. The spill, which began on April 20, 2010, was the result of an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig, which had been drilling off the Louisiana coast. The blast, which was attributed to a methane gas blowout, resulted in a fire and the eventual sinking of the rig as well as a ruptured riser pipe and damaged wellhead.

Since the time of the incident, at least 5,000-to-25,000 barrels (790,000-4,000,000 liters) of oil have been pouring unchecked from that well a day, prompting four states (Louisiana, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi) to declare a state of emergency. According to a May 3, Consumer News and Business Channel (CNBC) estimate, the spill covers a surface area of at least 6,500 square kilometers and is rapidly spreading since all efforts thus far to contain it have failed. According to the latest reports, it is drifting west, towards Texas.

Experts warn that the spill will cause an environmental disaster of massive proportions. At immediate risk are more than 400 species of marine life, including whales, dolphins and sea turtles. Not far behind them are the various animals and birds that inhabit the extensive Gulf Coastal wetlands. An inherent and very important part of the wetlands are the dense forests of mangrove trees. These trees, distinctive for their exposed roots, are of prime importance to many of the Gulf Coast's ecosystems and 2,000 kilometers of these forests are concentrated in three states most threatened by the oil spill - Louisiana, Texas and southern Florida. According to marine biologist Jerry Lorenz, the oil will kill the trees. The death of the mangroves would not only mean the collapse of numerous ecosystems. It would also mean the destruction of the 'first line of defense' during a hurricane. One of the important services these trees provide is that of a buffer during hurricane gale force winds and storm surges. The destruction of the mangroves would leave coastal communities totally unprotected.

The spill will also devastate the fishing industry. Initial cost estimates were around $2.5 billion; but as oil continues to gush into the Gulf and the spill spreads further afield, projected costs - and damage estimates - steadily mount. According to some financial analysts, the Gulf of Mexico fishing and shrimping industries, may have been dealt a blow from which they might never fully recover. As fishing boats bob idly at their docks and fishermen speculate as to when the bans will be lifted and they can once again put out to sea, their livelihood is being destroyed. Vital spawning grounds for fish, shrimp and crabs are being poisoned and marine populations are being decimated. Thus when the fishermen are once again allowed to cast off, there may not be many fish left. Yet, the oil continues to pour, and there seems to be no end in sight.

After much study, BP thought it had come up with a solution to the problem and constructed a 98-ton containment box that it positioned over the well and lowered 1,500 meters to cover the spill. However, the box quickly proved ineffective as the cold temperatures of the extreme depths caused ice crystals to form, which, in turn, clogged its funnel system.

According to US Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the British oil giant has even considered using garbage to stop the leak. On the CBS television program, “Face the Nation,” Adm. Allen said that the move would be something he referred to as a “junk shot”. BP would gather an assortment of shredded tires, golf balls and other junk, which it would shoot under very high pressure into the blowout preventer (a contraption, which sits on top of the well) to attempt to plug the leak.

When asked about the junk shot plan, BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles told reporters that it was being considered along with other possible solutions.

Experts maintain, however, that such a move would be risky, at best. They have warned that excessive tinkering with the blowout preventer (a 48-foot tall, 450-ton valve system that should have shut off the oil and failed to do so), could cause an even greater malfunction, which could, in turn cause oil to shoot out unchecked at 12 times the current rate.

Such an event would be catastrophic; but even the current rate of leakage, if allowed to continue unchecked, would spell disaster.

"If this gusher continues for several months, it's going to cover up the Gulf coast and it's going to get down into the loop current and that's going to take it down the Florida Keys and up the east coast of Florida," the state's senator, Bill Nelson told the CNN program, 'State of the Union.' “You are talking about massive economic loss to our tourism, our beaches, to our fisheries, very possibly disruption of our military testing and training, which is in the Gulf of Mexico," he added.

On May 10, the Elm, a 225-foot North Carolina coast guard cutter weighed anchor at its home port of Atlantic Beach and headed towards the Gulf of Mexico to help clean up the spill. According to the North Carolina coast guard, the ship is a buoy tender with a skimming system to help contain spills. However, considering the rate at which the oil is gushing into the Gulf, there is probably little that the Elm can do.

The only solution will be to stop the leak altogether -- and considering the depths involved, no feasible plan has yet been advanced. The answer can certainly not be found in the eternally sighing sea. This is a human problem, so man must fix it.

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