[Coral-List] Help Ban Oil Exploration

Eugene Shinn eshinn at marine.usf.edu
Wed May 4 11:33:17 EDT 2011

Thanks to all of you who replied to my rant about petrophobia in 
Belize. With a few exceptions the replies make it clear that among 
coral reefers there really are two kinds of people, those that 
instinctively hate oil companies and those that simply despise them. 
In spite of this I will respond to a few of their comments. Many of 
you will remember I have often responded to claims of oil damage to 
coral reefs in the past. So I feel I have to be consistent. First I 
would like to say that yes, there would be changes in society should 
Belize strike it rich and if there should  be a spill the main danger 
would be to the mangroves and birds but not the coral reefs assuming 
dispersants are not used. Oil floats over the live coral because 
unlike the Great Barrier reef, corals in Belize are not exposed at 
low tide.. Simple experiments conducted many years ago show it is 
virtually impossible to make crude oil stick to coral. Coral mucus 
prevents the oil from adhering. Even total immersion in Louisiana 
crude for more than a hour did not kill Staghorn or Star coral. 
That's not to say they like it and possibly oil under Belize could be 
chemically different and more harmful than Louisiana crude.
    Steve is correct when he states that the greatest source of oil in 
the worlds oceans (according to the National Academy of Sciences 
report) is natural seeps followed by run off from land. Up until the 
Deep Horizon blowout oil drilling was dead last. A publication in 
press by a well-known researcher at LSU documents 16,000 seeps in the 
Gulf of Mexico. Total estimated seepage in the Gulf ranges from 1 to 
4 thousand barrels per day. Fortunately it is not mixed with 
dispersants. Many such seep areas provide habitat for the deep water 
coral Lophylia! In fact drilling is banned from such areas because it 
might upset the delicate balance between seepage and coral growth as 
well as tubeworms, crabs, etc. Runoff from land is something we can 
all observe.
I have watched what floats down the Belize River in Belize city. It 
is not a pretty sight.
    Greg posted a most thoughtful letter pointing out that tanker 
spills still remain the largest "point source" in terms of volume 
released over a short period of time. Nevertheless, many would rather 
continue importing fuel in these potential oil bombs rather than 
responsibly produce their own.
     K. C. states, "Anyone who thinks an oil spill will not 
irreparably damage Belize does
  not know this country." I worked on the reefs of Belize on two 
separate 30-day expeditions in the 1970s (before corals began dying 
throughout the Caribbean). I know the area reasonably well based on 
our coring, diving, and sampling from the Barrier reef to the 
mangrove shores. Further, K.C. says in relation to oil leases, "They 
have been granted to companies with no experience in oil exploration" 
Just who are these companies that bid millions on oil leases and have 
"no experience in oil exploration"? That is clearly an unfounded 
statement. Who owns multimillion-dollar rigs but has never used one?
      Ed quotes "Confessions of an economic hit man" and how the "US/ 
uses various forms of economic aid to "enslave" developing countries" 
It is a sobering book. I read it. The writer worked with firms that 
provided justification for the World Bank to make loans to poor 
countries that could never pay them back. I question whether the 
World Bank is involved in oil drilling in Belize. Very few banks 
invest in oil drilling because it is such an expensive and risky 
business. Finding economical oil or gas is still one of the greatest 
gambles on earth. Since this discussion takes us into political water 
then I must wonder why our administration is loaning billions to 
Brazil to help them develop their huge new ultra deep water oil 
discovery in the Atlantic yet through regulations retards drilling in 
our own waters? It's hard to get away from politics. Nevertheless, I 
would think that it behooves us all to develop our own fossil fuels 
and get away from sending our dollars to unfriendly countries. 
Alternative energy would be great but it is years away and we still 
need to fill the energy-gap until alternatives are developed. 
Emotional screaming about the "dirty oil companies" and how they will 
destroy coral reefs forever does not help us get off expensive 
foreign oil and balance our budget.
      And thanks Michael for your research on dispersants. I agree. In 
the early 1970s I wrote the chapter on coral reefs in the API oil 
spill response manual. It specifically said, "do not use dispersants 
in the vicinity of coral reefs." I wish you could obtain funding to 
further your research on crude oil effects. I have tried for the past 
40 years with no luck. What I did I did without funding.  Gene


No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
------------------------------------ -----------------------------------
E. A. Shinn, Courtesy Professor
University of South Florida
Marine Science Center (room 204)
140 Seventh Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
<eshinn at marine.usf.edu>
Tel 727 553-1158---------------------------------- 

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