News / USA

    Oil and Water Don't Mix

    A massive oil spill off the coastline of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico has cost BP hundreds of millions of dollars - and that's before the leak has even been plugged. But the biggest costs may be yet to come, hitting the environment and the people who live and work along the Gulf Coast.

    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.
    Rebecca Ward

    Oil and water don't mix, as the old saying goes. That's as true in the ocean as anywhere.  However, oil in the ocean  can also be a lethal combination for wildlife. Spills from tankers, pipelines or an offshore platform - as is the case in leaking Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico - can affect thousands of square kilometers of sea and land.  And the effects can last many years after it seems the oil is cleaned up.   

    "Right now we have immediate short-term impacts and possible implications for wildlife and habitats being directly coated by oil," notes Doug Inkley, senior scientist with the National Wildlife Federation. "But the longer term impacts are the toxic effects and the residual effects that could last for years.  In the wreck of the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound in Alaska, it's now 20 years later and we still have some species that are not recovering or have not completely recovered to pre-wreck conditions."

    Until the Exxon Valdez tanker spilled more than 260,000 barrels of oil in 1989, the United States'  worst oil disaster had been off California's Santa Barbara coast in 1969. It coated the water and western California shore with nearly 4,800 barrels of oil that eventually spread across 1300 kilometers, killing thousands of marine birds, mammals and fish.

    "We have to be concerned about any of the birds that land on the water," says Inkley.  "We have to be concerned about the entire marine eco-system because this oil is toxic to the phytoplankton, the zooplankton, the very base of the food chain that all the animals further up the food chain are dependent upon."

    The 1969 California oil spill is credited with having sparked the modern environmental movement.  But injury to marine wildlife is just one part of the story.  Oil spills can have devastating effects on a region's economy.  Blighted beaches do not attract tourists, and the fishing industry in the vicinity of an oil spill can be nearly wiped out.  In Louisiana, areas where fishermen would normally trawl for shrimp and trap crabs have been shut down as the oil slick threatens to contaminate fishing waters.

    "It is an ecological disaster," says NWF's Inkley.  "It's going to change the livelihood of people probably forever. And what we need to do is recognize that we're all in this together.  And to the extent that we're using oil and gas ourselves, we're probably contributing to the problem."

    Environmental groups like the National Wildlife Federation propose the United States needs to convert to renewable fuels, because accidents and oil spills will continue to happen. And these days, even industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute agree on the need for renewables - in theory.  However in practice, says API senior economist Sara Banaszek, oil remains the single largest source of energy worldwide.

    "Right now, today in this country, less one percent of our energy is coming from wind and solar," says Banaszek.  "It's growing very rapidly but it's growing from a very small base.  60 percent of our energy is coming from oil and natural gas.  That's down from 25 years ago, maybe 70-something percent was coming from oil and natural gas. And it's forecast to continue declining down to 50-something in the future."

    And despite the potential magnitude of environmental havoc in the Gulf, says Banaszek, accidents like that at the Deepwater Horizon platform are extremely rare. "We haven't had an even of this sort of size or magnitude in about 40 years and we've been operating in the Gulf of Mexico since the 1940s."

    Elsewhere in the world, however, there have been more accidents.  Last year in Australia, an oil well owned by a Thai company leaked for ten weeks into the Timor Sea before being plugged. And, says Doug Inkley, these spills do not clean up easily.

    "The idea that we can effectively clean up an oil spill is really a myth, it's a fabrication.  When you look at the size of this oil spill, when you look at the size of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, only 14 percent of the oil was ever recovered."  

    It remains to be seen exactly how this latest oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico will affect U.S. energy policy, given that the oil and gas industry also provides hundreds of thousands of American jobs.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    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.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora