The issues of oil spills – an overview and questions to ponder

Oil rig - offshore drillingRight now, somewhere on this planet, an oil spill is occurring. You may not have heard or read about it (yet) but it’s happening – with oil either gushing or seeping unfettered across some waterway or landscape.

There are a myriad of issues involved with oil spills. Unless you have a strong background in this industry – and perhaps even then – you likely won’t know or comprehend many of them. This thorny subject is the focus of an excellent article published today by Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN). Its author  Jyllian Kemsley outlines both the broad strokes and daunting specifics that face scientists and the oil industry in dealing effectively with oil spills around the world.

This article is highly informative and written in language that’s easily understood by laymen such as you and me. But it’s the premise – and several related facts that were omitted – are troublesome.

Oil found on the ocean floor of the Gulf of Mexico answers the question - where did the oil go?

Oil found on the ocean floor of the Gulf of Mexico answers the question – where did the oil go?

“As long as we depend on oil for fuel and feedstock, more spills will occur within the U.S. and worldwide. The question is how to prepare for spills of all sizes to minimize harm to aquatic ecosystems and to the livelihoods of people who depend on those waterways.”

Clearly it’s “a given” that there will be oil spills. Just as clearly, none of the oil mega-giants have committed to anything but remediation after the fact. Is that a function of bowing to the inevitable? Shortsightedness? Lack of creative or innovative thinking? Or simply a function of putting profit over commitment to handling an almost insurmountable situation? If one had to guess, a good bet would be on the latter.

Too bad business as usual doesn’t incorporate ideals such as working to cause no harm to the planet or its marine and wild life. The question is, how much longer can we afford to operate this way before the loss in lives becomes too great to recover from?

It’s been noted that approximately 10 million gallons of oil have been found on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico – a fact that unfortunately was left out of Ms. Kemsley’s article. This oil is a 1,235 square mile remnant of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Shrimp with tumors and other deformities have become more frequent in the Gulf of Mexico since Deepwater Horizon

Shrimp with tumors and other deformities have become more frequent in the Gulf of Mexico since Deepwater Horizon

And this oil continues to have negative effects on Louisiana marine life.

Effects on marine mammals from oil spills include suffocation, respiratory damage, loss of insulation and poisoning. And that doesn’t include “side effects” such as deformities now being seen in shrimp off Louisiana – such as two heads, large tumors and other abnormalities, along with very high rates of miscarriages in marine mammals such as dolphins.

As Royal Dutch Shell continues its trek into the Arctic to position its rig to begin drilling for oil, at some point we must as the question – when does the cost get too high? And will our questioning come in tine to save our marine life?

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