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The Mess in the Gulf

oil on beachOn April 20, 2010 a huge explosion rocked the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.  Eleven oil workers perished immediately in the ensuing inferno. Seventeen others were badly injured. 

On April 22, the BP -leased rig succumbed to the flames and sank.  An estimated 205 million gallons of crude oil spewed into the Gulf from the damaged and inoperable blowout converter, until the well was finally capped on July 15th and the leak secured.

In their rush to maximize profit, it appears that crew safety warnings were ignored. This led to the largest toxic chemical spill in U.S. history.

The demand for fossil fuels in ever-increasing volumes drives oil companies to drill in areas previously thought impossible. Although drilling companies have met the challenge of drilling in deep water, repair of “misadventure” is another matter entirely. No one had a plan to deal with the catastrophe. They had to make it up as they went along.

BP attempted to minimize the visibility of the spill by adding the dispersant Corexit as oil gushed from the well. This dispersant has been found by the EPA to be more toxic than 12 other chemicals suited for the task. The chemical has been banned in the U.K. Still, EPA relented and permitted BP to spray the dispersant, Corexit may have contributed to the difficulty of the cleanup by preventing the oil from rising to the surface where it could be recovered by skimmers or burned.

pelicanNOAA estimates that 103 million gallons of oil remained in the sea, and the University of South Florida research team estimated fully 75 percent of the spilled oil remained unaccounted for. This huge amount of oil remains below the surface in plumes, just where and in what quantities no one knows. 

In late July, Tulane University scientists found signs of the oil-and-dispersant mix under the shells of tiny blue crab larvae. This suggests that the use of dispersants broke the oil into droplets small enough to enter the food chain. Marine biologists from the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Center found orange oil blobs under the shells of crab larvae in May. They continue to find them in almost all of the larvae they collected from over 300 miles of Gulf coastline.

The fouled wetlands and beaches of the Gulf Coast will take decades to recover. The economic damage to the Gulf region is estimated in the billions. Coastal fishing, recreation and wildlife have been decimated for years to come. The resultant drilling moratorium has pushed thousands of Americans to unemployment.  The moratorium will last through November 30, 2010.

Our addiction to oil is not sustainable.

The U.S. consumes 25 percent of the world’s oil production, yet controls less than 3 percent of an increasingly tight supply.  Alternatively, investment in our own biofuels research, production and development creates jobs, supports independence and is better for the environment.

We need American Biofuels Now.