News / USA

Gushing Oil Threatens Wildlife, Gulf Ecosystem

Aquatic life, birds vulnerable to toxic effects of oil

Raccoon Island, a protected bird breeding sanctuary south of Louisiana, is one of several islands being surveyed for oil debris.
Raccoon Island, a protected bird breeding sanctuary south of Louisiana, is one of several islands being surveyed for oil debris.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

The Gulf of Mexico oil disaster comes during spring spawning season, an especially bad time for aquatic life making them extraordinarily vulnerable to the toxic effects of the oil itself, says Doug Rader, chief oceans scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund.

"Now the same thing is happening with birdlife migrating to and from the tropics. Those that have completed their migrations in the Gulf region are nesting and are beginning to feed this year's crop of migratory birds."

As the oil gushes from the broken well head at the sea floor, Rader says it has the potential to contaminate each layer of the water column that, "directly exposes those animals to toxicity, at the surface including the very sensitive surface zones where not only sea turtles and marine mammals and sea birds can be oiled, but also where the highways for fish larvae exist. And then as it rains back into the abyss over a much wider area carrying toxicants back into the deep sea where ancient corals and other sensitive ecosystems exist."

Limited choices

One response strategy has been to use dispersants or anti-freeze-like chemicals to break the oil up into smaller globules.

Those particles mix more readily with water, and sink. Rader says dispersants are being sprayed from airplanes and - for the first time - pumped directly into the deep ocean unsure of its effects.

Aerial images of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill taken from a US Coast Guard HC-144 aircraft.
Aerial images of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill taken from a US Coast Guard HC-144 aircraft.

It is a choice, he says, between two bad options. While the chemicals may protect birds and other wildlife by dissipating the slick before it reaches shore, their toxicity in the Gulf could harm fish and other marine life.

Judith Dowell, a biologist with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and an expert on oil spill contamination, says it is important to understand the nature of the oil in order to predict its ecological effects.

"If a lot of it is very light material, it is going to vaporize. If a lot of it is heavy material, it may precipitate to the bottom. In the meantime, you have these medium molecular weight compounds that are dispersing within the water column. Until you can get some very accurate measurements of the depth of the slick and the geographical extent of the slick, it's not easy to do."

Widening threat

The slick threatens sensitive coastal wetlands, areas critical to wildlife.

Barrier islands and wetlands also serve to buffer towns on the coast from hurricanes and storm surges. Doug Rader with the Environmental Defense Fund says the spill may finally force coastal communities to put more adequate plans and safeguards in place to prevent an off shore disaster in the future.

Workers clean up oil along a beach at South Pass, La. May 11, 2010 near where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico.
Workers clean up oil along a beach at South Pass, La. May 11, 2010 near where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico.

"There are thousands of wells in the Gulf. There are 35,000 miles [56,000 kilometers] of pipeline in the Gulf," says Rader. "It is pretty clear that the status quo in terms of investment to prevent risk and to respond to events wasn't adequate and that some retrofitting of that entire infrastructure is necessary to be able to sustain the current level of production in the Gulf."

Rethinking offshore drilling?

Rader says the time is also ripe to rethink the wisdom of offshore drilling in favor of other energy options in the face of climate change.

"That going forward with a more balanced portfolio of energy sources that begins to address the global problem of warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions and threatening coastal areas like coastal Louisiana by rising seas and intensifying storms has to be a piece of the mix."

Graphic depicting the Riser Insertion Tube method to contain oil leaking from the riser of the Deepwater Horizon Well.
Graphic depicting the Riser Insertion Tube method to contain oil leaking from the riser of the Deepwater Horizon Well.

To this end, on May 12, Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman introduced long-awaited climate and energy legislation.

The bill covers a broad cross-section of the nation's top environmental and energy issues, from expanded nuclear power and carbon capture and sequestration, to giving states veto power over drilling within 120 kilometers off shore if, in the language of the proposed law, "they stand to suffer significant adverse impacts in the event of an accident."

You May Like

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid