[Coral-List] BP Oil Spill Response

EAH mechers at gmail.com
Thu May 13 09:47:30 EDT 2010


I think this was well said, and needed, perspective on the spill.  It
brought to mind something which has been bothering me: the word
"unprecedented".  I have not seen acknowledged that as a modifier,
"unprecedented" can be referring to several things.  In the pushback against
a sensationlistic depiction of the spill, we would do well to consider
characterizations between "unprecedented disaster" and "learning
experience"--exactly as you pointed out.  So thank you.  Returning to
"unprecedented", let's consider what might be appropriate applications of
the word:

unprecedented disaster--so broad a description as to be almost meaningless

unprecedented impact--remains to be seen.  Full extent of ecological,
economic, and human health impacts may never be known.

unprecedented scale--unknown and still changing.  May well be a spill of
unprecedented scale by the time the leak is stopped.

unprecedented mechanism--almost certainly true.  Never has this happened
from such a depth, and we've plainly seen that no plans were in place for
addressing this kind of system failure.

It is not crying wolf when there actually IS a problem.  Rather than
wholesale pushback, accurately characterizing the severity of the event is
the measured and realistic course.


On Thu, May 13, 2010 at 12:25 AM, David Evans <davidjevans1818 at yahoo.com>wrote:

> I've been somewhat perplexed since I read this last week.
> Is the implication that describing the Gulf Oil Leak as a disaster is
> somehow a bad thing or inappropriate?
> Certainly, the concept of "crying wolf" and getting "bit in the butt" later
> on is clear enough.
> But if you stop to think about the phrase (and attendant fable) of "crying
> wolf" ... it exists because sometimes there really ARE (WERE) wolves out
> there that threaten(ed) the shepherd's flocks. Crying "wolf" really wasn't a
> "bad" thing when there really were wolves out there!
> Is this fairly massive leak not considered a "wolf" to this region of the
> Gulf of Mexico? Is it not a threat?
> It was also rather appropriate to "cry wolf" before said wolf actually took
> any sheep. Crying wolf after the predator took its prey would be considered
> a bit less than efficient. How have things been so much turned around?
> Maybe this is just a matter of definition and scale. What is exactly meant
> by Disaster? What is exactly meant by Gulf of Mexico? What is exactly meant
> by Fishery?
> Personally, I'm not sure I've heard a lot of folks crying "the end of the
> entire Gulf of Mexico", as in becoming a biological desert or the collapse
> of all fisheries. (I don't think I've heard anyone say that actually...).
> If there are a few folks saying that, is that reason enough for the
> majority of marine scientists to "tamp down" what they have been saying - as
> in "play it down" so we don't get bit in the butt later on?
> If it does mean that, then the "drill baby drill" crowd has already won, if
> that is what it's all about. Considering the drill baby drill crowd, when
> has reality ever kept them from saying what they wanted to say toward their
> own ends anyway?
> The media will attempt to paint the "black and white" world that they do
> anyway. And at times some of them even seem to lean toward some special
> interest or another.
> But it is still a responsibility to raise valid concerns and label the
> situation as is fitting, no? Call a spade a spade and all that? ...
> confidence in one's convictions...
> The oil industry and think-tanks certainly have their slick PR efforts and
> lobbying activity to "adjust" public and political attention and momentum,
> but is it really wise for the scientific community to "play it down" so as
> no to stick their collective necks out on this one?
> Maybe clarifying what is meant by "measured response" would be helpful.
> Is this event more than awful? Is it more than unfortunate? Is it more than
> a problem?
> It turns out that the actual rate of the leak is likely more than the 5000
> barrels a day that was estimated early on and continues to be repeated. Some
> estimates, based on the size of the surface oil as seen through satellite
> imagery, place the rate of leak many times greater than that.
> It turns out that estimates of economic impact on fisheries and biological
> resources from the Pemex IXTOC 1 leak in 1979 were for the State of Texas
> waters only (finding no significant negative impacts there). What were the
> impacts in the Bay of Campeche and more immediate Mexican waters and coasts?
> It turns out that the IXTOC leak seems to have been rather harsh on the
> planktonic community in the Bay of Campeche and Mexican waters. What effects
> did that have down the line? How was the ecosystem as a whole affected? How
> does the depth of the wells relate to the extent of the effects? How do the
> more immediate environments relate to the effects?
> Outrage at this leak is an understandable and appropriate response, but
> scientifically assessed from what is currently known is it not also
> appropriate to be seriously concerned?
> The outrage is understandable on its own... yet also: it happened during
> the 40th anniversary of earth day... after many folks warned about this
> exact occurrence... in the face of drill baby drill chants... when the
> planet is in serious need of alternate fuels sources anyway... and climate
> change and human impact are placing ever greater burdens on the
> environment... The outrage is understandable.
> But scientifically, certainly there are grounds to be terribly disturbed by
> the very real implications. No?
> Marine scientists work in a field that seems abstract to most folks. There
> is a barrier at the coast, where land (the beach) ends and "out there"
> begins... And there is the barrier of the sea's surface itself, where what
> lies below is almost "another world."
> >From the perspective of a creature that lives in that "other world" I
> cannot imagine that this leak can be anything other than an exceptionally
> bad thing in every rational and logical way possible...
> The numbers of implications are immense. But why does it have to be "bigger
> than Valdez" to be a disaster? Why does it have to be bigger than the state
> of x or y to be a disaster? Why does it have to be the "death of the entire
> Gulf of Mexico" to be a disaster (not sure who said that... kinda nutty
> though)? Why does it have to be tactile, visual, and visceral to us to be a
> disaster? What about to the threatened Gulf Sturgeon no one knows about? or
> Risso's dolphins? or what about that-much-more toxins being consumed with
> seafood? or that-much-more area added to the Mississippi Dead Zone?
> Can the Eastern Gulf Ecosystem "survive" and this event still have been a
> disaster? Can we acknowledge the resilience of nature and natural systems
> (especially large ones) and this still have been a disaster because the Gulf
> is now that much more the worse for wear?
> What if all of a sudden, ocean dumping of toxins and wastes became legal
> and the preferred way of disposal? What if all the oil and dispersants being
> spewed 5000ft down in the Gulf was purposeful? What would the response be?
> Why would we respond that way?
> Placing the weight of a massive oil spill (leak) on the ledger of an
> already strained system does seem to be tempting fate... certainly a cause
> to be seriously concerned at the least...
> Calling the leaking oil a natural product to make it seem less "dangerous"
> is just insulting, considering the number of natural toxins out there in the
> world that we would not want to be dumping into the sea at the rate of this
> oil leak. And comparing this gusher of a leak to the natural seeps and
> evolved communities that depend on them just seems plain disingenuous.
> Personally, I'm concerned about what follow-on effects this leak and
> applied dispersants will have in the food web out there; ultimately leading
> to fish markets and dinner tables. What happens to the planktonic community
> that is affected. Where does it end up? How many toxins were already out
> there off the Mississippi Delta? How much sargassum community is out there
> right now and has become entrained in the slick? What about the deeper sea
> off the shelf - what will the fallout bring there? How will it affect sperm
> whales and their food sources? What about hard bottom communities? How about
> looking at the hard bottom/reef communities living on the hundreds of rig
> platform legs in that area to test for effects on hard bottom communities?
> Can the appropriate measured response be agreed to be somewhere between
> "death of the Gulf of Mexico" and "an unfortunate problem?"
> David J. Evans
> ------------------------------
> Message: 2
> Date: Fri, 7 May 2010 15:23:57 -0400 (EDT)
> From: Steve LeGore <slegore at mindspring.com>
> Subject: [Coral-List] BP Oil Spill Response
> To: Coral List <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
> Message-ID:
>    <26108068.1273260237715.JavaMail.root at wamui-junio.atl.sa.earthlink.net>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UTF-8
> I am going to contribute something that may well be unpopular, but I
> believe it must be said.  I implore the scientific community to abstain from
> crying wolf about the BP oil spill.  Cries of ?disaster? and ?destruction of
> fisheries? will, I believe, ultimately return to bite us in our collective
> asses.
> Look, I am not stupid or uninformed.  My Ph.D. dissertation research at the
> UW (Seattle) concerned toxicity of Prudhoe Bay crude.  I have responded to
> several oil spills and I managed the year-long field sampling response to
> the Ekofisk Bravo Blowout in the North Sea ? at the time the largest spill
> in history.  I have participated in training oil spill responders, and I
> evaluated IMO response procedures and policies to the Desert Strom spills in
> the Persian Gulf.
> The BP spill is of course a problem that should not have happened.  Spilled
> crude oil makes a mess; it oils birds and turtles and is potentially
> devastating to air-breathing marine mammals.  BP must be held accountable
> for its shortcomings, which are many and profound.  BP should be encouraged
> to return to the days when its Environmental Affairs Department reported to
> its Chairman of the Board rather than its PR Department Head ? as it did
> when BP earned the respect of the world?s entire environmental community.
> However, we must remember that crude oil is not as toxic as refined
> petroleum products.  It is a mix of many hydrocarbons, including many heavy
> complex compounds as well as lighter fractions.  Leaving aside potential
> carcinogenicity, it is the latter that generally exhibit toxicity.
>  Fortunately, crude oil floats, and in doing so it provides opportunity for
> the more toxic lighter fractions to differentially evaporate into the
> atmosphere, removing them from the water column environment.  These same
> lighter fractions tend to dissolve into the water column, but fortunately
> they do so only to a limited extent.  They are, almost by definition,
> hydrophobic.  The only light component that dissolves to an appreciable
> extent is benzene, which, if I remember correctly, can reach 17 ppm in a
> super saturated state.  This means that there is a profound limit to the
> depth at which these compounds can exert their toxic impacts.  They are
> generally limited to the top
>  few centimeters of the w
> ater column, which is of concern for floating eggs and some other
> planktonic components.
> Yes, the rough weather and wind following the spill will tend to exacerbate
> these issues, causing more mixing and potentially affecting availability of
> toxins to marine organisms.  And yes, the extreme depth at which this oil is
> released in the marine environment may well create unprecedented
> opportunities for mixing and dissolution.   These factors may well enhance
> impacts of the spill in the GoM, but what concerns me much more profoundly
> is the wholesale use of dispersants.  The furor to control the spill, and
> BP?s concern for its public image with a  view to oil-coated shorelines,
> have resulted in pouring amounts of dispersants into the marine environment
> that I would have personally thought unthinkable before this spill.
> Dispersants are in themselves toxic and run the risk of disrupting
> lipid-based cell membranes of fish eggs and other plankton.  They also
> emulsify spilled hydrocarbons, making them more biologically available in
> the water column..
>  I question whether BP
>  would have used so much of these ill-advised compounds if public pressure
> had been more measured.
> Oil spills are nasty when they reach shore.  There is no question about it,
> and the oil will indeed cause many environmental problems in these
> environments for many years to come, depending on how much oil reaches these
> areas..  But the oil will most likely NOT cause destruction of all GoM
> fisheries for the foreseeable future.  Deepwater fisheries likely will be
> affected more by fouling of gear by oil than by oil killing the target fish.
> Yes, this spill is awful and was almost certainly preventable.  And yes, it
> will likely cause very unfortunate damage to the marine environment and
> marine fisheries, especially in shoreline environments that it may strike.
>  And yes, BP and its partners must be held fully accountable.  But the spill
> will not turn the GoM into a biological desert.  By screaming ?Murder? I
> believe well-meaning environmentalists run the risk of providing ?Drill Baby
> Drill? people an argument when the ultimate environmental effects fail to
> measure up to extreme panic calls.  Let us please be measured and realistic
> so as to not provide a free advantage to those who would overlook the real
> issues involved here.
> Steve LeGore
> Steve LeGore, Ph.D.
> LeGore Environmental Associates, Inc.
> 2804 Gulf Drive N.
> Holmes Beach, Florida 34217 USA
> Tel: 941/778-4650
> Fax: 941/778-4761
> Cell: 941/447-8010
> GMT + 4 hrs
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