BP Spill: Drilling for Good News 4 Years Later

oiled turtle-2 Blair Witherington

Oiled turtle
Blair Witherington

Four years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster it’s hard to find irrefutable good news. Billions of dollars and countless numbers of scientists and project staff are focused on understanding and fixing the large and lingering damage. Predictions about the future are cautious to non-existent. What’s clear is the Gulf and the creatures that depend on it are still struggling.

Food, habitat, next generations

CC seafood plateWhile tourists and locals in a news video shot in New Orleans said they had no health qualms about eating Gulf seafood, an oil industry worker/sports fisherman in a Fox News clip bemoaned the disappearance of red fish in his home waters. In a Reuter’s piece last week, Jules Melancon, “the last remaining oyster fisherman on Grand Isle,” says all his leased oyster beds are barren. Seven fishing grounds off the Louisiana coast remain closed.

Cat Island in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, once a teeming pelican rookery, is devoid of stabilizing vegetation. It’s wasting away. The oil/dispersant mix that soaked into the soil poisoned mangroves and all the other plants. The muck is still there, destroying any chance new vegetation will secure a toe-hold. Restoration has begun in some areas hit by the spill, but it’s expensive and slow-going.

A Jules Verne visit below

Researcher/oceanographer, Mandy Joyce of the University of Georgia is part of a team, making the first dives in four years to the Macondo well blow-out site.

U.S. Navy submersible, "ALVIN" used by the research team this month. Creative Commons photo

U.S. Navy submersible, “ALVIN” used by the research team this month.
Creative Commons photo

Where nothing survived four years ago, this week she saw eels, skates, and a vampire squid. Conclusion: recovery is happening. However the sea floor is covered in an inches-thick oiled layer. The long-term effects are unknown, and while heartened she cautioned not to extrapolate the positive signs across the entire area affected by the original spill.

Human health studies

The National Institute of Health (NIH) is in the early stages of its 10-year study on the human health impacts to those who lived in the area and worked on clean-up. This two-part NIH interview by Laurie Wiegler of the Examiner/New Orleans News leaves the impression it will be a long time before the true results are known, if ever. Many of the sick, lacking health insurance, can only wait and hope their claims survive the complicated bundle of paperwork and court battles between the government and BP.

Environmental monitoring group, Gulf Restoration Networkreports oil is still appearing on Louisiana’s Grand Isle beaches. They collected “thousands of tar balls” there April 9th, 2014. BP denies they are from the Macondo well, saying the tar balls are no threat to human health. (Reuters)

Compensation

BP has spent tens of billions of dollars in fines, clean-up, and compensation. That figure has almost doubled in court fights, the company attempting to overturn or delay payments. Locally, rifts have developed between claimants who have received settlements and those denied or still waiting. Lawyers have claimed a lion’s share. 

A failure to improve

In the meantime, BP has successfully bid on 24 blocks offered for lease in the Gulf of Mexico. These are the company’s first new U.S. offshore leases in two years, which include government approval for deep-water drilling.  

Creative commons photo

Creative commons photo

According to a disturbing New York Times OpEd article (4/17/2014) nothing has changed in terms of engineering refinements on any deep water operations. The Obama Administration “…still has not taken key steps recommended by its experts and experts it commissioned to increase drilling safety. As a result, we are on a course to repeat our mistakes. Making matters worse, the administration proposes to expand off-shore drilling in the Atlantic and allow seismic activities harmful to ocean life in the search for new oil reserves.” (Liz Birnbaum, former head of the Minerals Management Service, industry regulatory agency at the time of the Macondo blow-out and Jacqueline Savitz, vice president for U.S. Oceans at Oceana.)

New leases for deepwater drilling are handed out to companies every year, yet improved regulations and design requirements on blow-out preventers promised four years ago remain non-existent. “The N.A.E. (National Academy of Engineering) report warned that a blowout in deep water may not be controllable with current technology,” the N.Y.Times piece concluded. 

Business as usual.

OKAY, TODAY’S GOOD NEWS! 

I was at a low ebb this afternoon after researching articles for this post, when in came an e-mail from Adrienne McCracken. She’s the Field Operations Manager for Loggerhead Marine Life Center in Juno Beach, Florida. Adrienne’s Kemp’s ridley hatchling is the eye-catching baby turtle on the cover of my novel, Elizabeth’s Landing

Sea turtle crawl track, Juno Beach FL 4/20/2014. Photo by Adrienne McCracken, Loggerhead Marine Life Center.

Leatherback sea turtle crawl track, Juno Beach FL 4/20/2014. Photo by Adrienne McCracken, Loggerhead Marine Life Center.

She said, “Happy Easter! We had our own version of an egg hunt this morning with a leatherback and a loggerhead nest…” Whoo-hoo! Life goes on, and as Maria the biologist in the book tells Elizabeth, “It’s a one-turtle-at-a-time job.” This morning Adrienne and her group enjoyed two, with hope for 200+/- hatchlings in a few months. Thank you Loggerhead Marinelife Center, and all sea turtle conservation groups for being on the beaches year-round.

Loggerhead Marinelife Center Field Staff, Shelby, flagging a Loggerhead nest 4/20/2014.

Loggerhead Marinelife Center Field Technician, Shelby, flagging a Loggerhead nest 4/20/2014. Photo by Sarah Hirsch

The second piece of good news, at least for me, came yesterday from the Nautilus Book AwardsElizabeth’s Landing earned a 2014 SILVER award for Young Adult Fiction. Last year, Nautilus GOLD and SILVER award winners included three authors I love: Barbara Kingsolver for Flight Behavior, Louise Erdrich for The Round House, and Brene’ Brown for Daring GreatlyIn April, Elizabeth’s Landing was awarded FIRST PLACE in Fiction in Writer’s Digest’s 2013 “Self-published e-book Awards. I am deeply honored by both awards and hope they help bring more attention to the desperate plight of all sea turtles.

NAUTILUS SILVER - YOUNG ADULT FICTION 2014

 

It’s spring, and with it comes new energy and possibility. Bloom where you can.

Delphinium nudicaule Photo: Katy Pye

Delphinium nudicaule
Photo: Katy Pye

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