July 3rd, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
After the catastrophic BP oil spill, President Obama declared a moratorium on permits for drilling new offshore oil wells. But reports indicate that federal regulators have granted at least five environmental waivers and seven new permits for various types of drilling—some in waters deeper than BP’s Deepwater Horizon site.
These permits and waivers were huge mistakes, according to A. James Barnes, a professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University.
“I find it inexplicable that we are not taking a timeout after being faced with what is being characterized as the worst manmade environmental disaster in U.S. history,” says Barnes, who formerly served as general counsel and deputy administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“We have very limited experience with deep-ocean drilling in U.S. waters, and we don’t really have a good understanding of why this disaster occurred and how it might have been prevented,” he adds. “What is painfully apparent is that neither BP and its drilling partners nor the federal government were prepared to deal with the consequences if something went wrong.”
Questions have been raised about the adequacy of the environmental review, permit requirements and provisions for governmental oversight.
“Equipment failures and possible human error appear to have played a part, and ad hoc—and, to date, unsuccessful—efforts to stem the flow of oil have put a spotlight on the absence of viable and redundant mechanisms to stop the flow of oil into the water column should a problem develop,” Barnes says.
“Day by day, we watch the continued destruction of a very valuable fishery and ecosystem as the oil moves into the marshes of Louisiana and onto the beaches to the east. We see humans and wildlife frantically trying to deal with the oily goo, as well as the pain of Gulf Coast residents watching their livelihoods and way of life wiped out. We do not yet know the full extent of the tragedy that is unfolding as oil continues to flow virtually unabated.”
Barnes is calling for a timeout for any further drilling “until we can figure out what went wrong and how to prevent another environmental disaster of this magnitude.”
Read More:We Need a Timeout from Oil Drilling
June 21st, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Hey, Tony “I Would Like My Life Back” Hayward!
Now that you’re no longer the bloated public face of BP, it seems your narcissistic wish for some “me time” has been granted.
Hope you enjoyed sailing off the oil-free shores of Britain on your $270 million yacht. What else would one expect from a tone-deaf CEO whose 2009 salary and bonuses totaled about $4.5 million?
Tony, you may want to publish the Cliff’s Notes for wrecking other countries’ ecosystems. I’m sure Exxon would be interested.
Just in case you’re unfamiliar with what you’ve done, we turn to Carl Hacker, PhD, JD, an associate professor of ecology and health law at The University of Texas School of Public Health, who explains what happened after the massive Gulf Coast spill:
- First up was the immediate ecological impact. Fish, crabs and birds sported lethal coatings of oil and washed up along the coast. Some species now face extinction.
- Grasses, which made up the wetlands, were destroyed. As a result, food and foraging surfaces for surviving animals have been lost.
- Humans, also part of the food web, had to say goodbye to crabs, shrimp, oysters, and finfish. Many fishermen lost their livelihoods, and workers died in the explosion that caused the spill.
“How long the effects of this well blowout will last is hard to imagine or forecast,” Dr. Hacker says. “A coastal wetland is an ecosystem: an assemblage of plants and animals with their physical environment. Although we know an ecosystem can be destroyed and recover in time, we do not know what the ecosystem will look like when it returns.
“It is likely that many of the species that formed the coastal wetland will be lost. The relationship among the plants and animals that make up the ecosystem will certainly change. We have no experience with estimating how long it will take for this coastal wetland to recover, or indeed whether it will recover. If it does recover, it will most certainly take a very long time.”
Heckuva job, Tony.
Photo courtesy of NOAA
Read More:How to Destroy an Ecosystem in 3 Easy Steps
June 16th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have ramped up inspection efforts to ensure fish and seafood from areas near the BP oil spill are safe to eat.
“Closing harvest waters that could be exposed to oil protects the public from potentially contaminated seafood because it keeps the product from entering the food supply,” says NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, PhD.
Fishery areas were first closed May 2, and closures have been adjusted based on the spill’s trajectory (to include a 5-nautical-mile buffer).
To help prevent tainted seafood from reaching the marketplace, NOAA is collecting, sampling and inspecting commercial and recreational fish and shellfish from areas the spill has yet to reach. Ongoing surveillance will determine whether contamination has occurred and new areas must be closed.
The FDA’s initial targets are oysters, crab and shrimp, which retain contaminants longer than finfish. First in line for inspection are processors who buy seafood directly from harvesters.
“We recognize that the effects of the oil spill continue to grow as oil continues to flow,” Dr. Lubchenco says. “As remediation efforts continue, it may be possible to alleviate some of the economic harm caused by the oil spill by reopening previously closed areas. NOAA will reopen areas only if assured that fish products taken from these areas meet FDA standards for public health.”
“FDA has set up a hotline for reporting seafood safety issues,” adds FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD. “We encourage fishermen and consumers to report potential contamination to (888) INFO-FDA.”
Photo courtesy of NOAA
Read More:Federal Agencies Assess Gulf Seafood
June 11th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Sarah Palin’s “drill, baby, drill” mantra seems all the more idiotic as we watch the environmental scoundrels at BP try to contain the disastrous oil spill they caused along the Gulf Coast (with, I should add, a little help from Dick Cheney’s greedy cohorts at Halliburton).
“While this is a popular strategy among Republicans, Tea Partiers and Blue Dog Democrats, it is a terrible policy,” says Rafael Reuveny, PhD, a professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University, Bloomington. “It risks the health of America’s environment and, even more so, the global ecosystem.”
Offshore drilling is growing costlier and more dangerous, Dr. Reuveny says.
“We don’t even know how to solve the current problem in the Gulf,” he explains. “Offshore drilling pushes our technology and safety measures to the limit. The more we drill offshore and the deeper the sea bed is, the higher the risk of these catastrophes. It is a simple game of probability.”
From Climate Change to Outright Violence
Instead of weaning the planet off fossil fuels, the United States is escalating its dependence and accelerating climate change.
“Climate change increases the frequency and intensity of weather disasters such as storms, floods and droughts,” says Dr. Reuveny, who coauthored Climatic Natural Disasters, Political Risk and International Trade in the May issue of Global Environmental Change. “As a result, these disasters have reduced foreign trade and investments and promoted waves of environmental refugees from poor, affected countries. In Arizona, the arrival of migrants has led to civil strife. In other cases, it has led to outright violence.”
As the United States continues to increase carbon emissions, other countries must wonder why they should cap theirs, Dr. Reuveny says.
Pursuing an Irrational Course
President Obama’s initial executive order to continue offshore drilling, which he reversed by moratorium after the BP spill, “brings all of us closer to the brink of social collapse due to severe environmental decline, which has occurred many times throughout history,” Dr. Reuveny asserts.
A better strategy is to preserve oil as an insurance plan for the future.
“Leaving our oil in the ground is like an underwater bank with an outstanding interest rate as oil becomes increasingly scarce and its price rises,” he says. “In the meantime, we must invest in new technology and alternative energy sources. These are the ways to maintain our status as world leader. We will only self-destruct if we continue on this irrational course.”
For Your Organic Bookshelf: Energy Independence: Your Everyday Guide to Reducing Fuel Consumption
Read More:Just Leave the Damn Oil in the Ground
June 1st, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
While the BP oil spill has officially become the worst in U.S. history, Americans remain divided over whether the government should increase offshore oil drilling, according to a nationwide survey of 1,001 adults conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Public Policy.
When asked specifically about drilling’s risks and benefits, 51% said the environmental risks outweigh the benefits, while 35% think the benefits outweigh the environmental risks. Nonetheless, 45% support increased offshore drilling, with 44% opposing it (margin of error: ±3.7%).
- 80% say pollution of the country’s rivers, lakes and reservoirs is a major problem; 16% say it’s a minor problem; and 3% say it’s not a problem.
- Air pollution is considered a major problem by 74%, and 73% worry about our overreliance on energy from oil and gas.
- 54% say global warming is a major problem, 23% consider it a minor problem, and 19% say it’s not a problem.
- Views about global warming are divided along partisan lines, with 70% of Democrats identifying it as a major problem; only 27% of Republications agree. Most Independents (53%) think global warming is a major problem.
- Perceptions lean toward the view that scientists are divided over global warming, with 49% of those polled saying many scientists have serious doubts about the evidence; 37% believe the evidence is widely accepted in the scientific community. Once again, views were split along partisan lines.
For Your Organic Bookshelf: The Bridge at the End of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability
Read More:Public Divided on Environmental Issues
May 13th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
At 88, Betty White (right) killed on Saturday Night Live last weekend, and she has the ratings to prove it.
The TV legend scored the show’s highest viewership since November 2008, when Ben Affleck’s hosting gig featured guest appearances by Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain and Tina Fey as Sarah Palin. (For the record: Palin’s “Drill, Baby, Drill” idiocy should force her to de-oil a few hundred bird victims of the massive British Petroleum oil spill that remains uncontained.)
White has served as a Morris Animal Foundation trustee for more than 40 years, and she has promised to match $25,000 in contributions to help wildlife scientists determine animals’ needs created by the oil spill. (Click here to donate.)
“The need is so great right now,” White says. “There are some species that may not make it through this. Morris Animal Foundation’s rapid-response fund was set up just for these types of needs.”
“When starting this fund two months ago, we had no idea we would need to use it so quickly,” says veterinarian Wayne A. Jensen, the foundation’s chief scientific officer.
“Although tragic, events such as these provide research opportunities to develop better methods to diagnose disease and treat affected animals. Through this fund, we hope to provide researchers with much-needed funds to act quickly to address wildlife health needs in times of crisis.”
If you enjoyed White’s performance as much as I did, please donate to her worthy cause.
For Your Organic Bookshelf: Night Fire: Big Oil, Poison Air, and Margie Richard’s Fight to Save Her Town
Read More:Help Betty White Save Oil Spill Victims
May 6th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Craving shrimp, crab, oysters and other seafood indigenous to the Gulf Coast?
Good luck finding them.
Supermarkets and restaurants are taking fish and seafood off their menus—a result of the British Petroleum oil spill that’s threatening area wildlife and marine animals.
And if you do happen to locate these ocean delicacies, expect to pay a substantial premium.
Todd Waldschmidt, manager and seafood buyer for Peoria, IL-based Jonah’s Seafood House, told the Peoria Journal Star that the greatest price increases may be felt toward summer’s end. Similarly, restaurants and grocers from New York to California may be forced to jack up prices or source seafood from overseas.
A $2.5 Billion Price Tag
As the Environmental Defense Fund notes:
“A huge fraction of the fish production in the region is at risk—a body blow both to marine ecosystems and the multibillion-dollar coastal industries tied to commercial fishing and seafood, and sport fisheries and recreation. It is especially sad that this catastrophe threatens the fishing communities of the Gulf that have become national leaders in transforming ocean fisheries to models of sustainability.”
CNBC reports the ultimate price tag for spill cleanup may exceed $14 billion. As for the seafood industry, Louisiana could lose $2.5 billion.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has restricted fishing in the area, and its scientists are testing water and seafood samples.
“There are finfish, crabs, oysters and shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico near the area of the oil spill,” confirms NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Administrator Roy Crabtree. “The Gulf is such an important biologic and economic area in terms of seafood production and recreational fishing.”
NOAA estimates that Gulf Coast commercial fishermen, whose livelihoods depend on healthy seas, harvested more than 1 billion pounds of finfish and shellfish in 2008.
Read More:Oil Spill Creates Seafood Shortage
May 5th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Birds—from ducks and herons to terns and the brown pelican (Louisiana’s state bird)—are becoming the latest victims of the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf Coast.
“It’s a full moon, a high tide, and it’s bringing the oil on a free ride right into the coastal salt marshes on a southerly wind,” says Dr. Ken Rosenberg, director of conservation science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “It is also peak migration season for birds crossing the gulf; tens of thousands of exhausted shorebirds are going to be arriving in the next two weeks. They’re flying over water and stopping to refuel on the beaches and in the estuaries along the Gulf Coast, directly in the path of this massive spill.”
As with other environmentalists, Dr. Rosenberg blames “our thirst for fossil fuel” for this unprecedented manmade disaster.
“We’ve been playing Russian roulette with our environment, and the gun just went off,” he says.
Precursor to Human Harm
“Birds are an important first indicator of environmental health, and the old analogy of the canary in the coal mine is really relevant here,” Dr. Rosenberg says. “A lot of these birds are going to die, but that’s just the beginning of the story of what might happen to the coastal environment for both wildlife and people if the oil doesn’t stop flowing.”
At first, breeding bird colonies along the coast will be devastated. Next, thousands of brown pelicans—removed from the endangered species list only last year—will be affected, along with other water-bird colonies. Dependent on fish and other marine life for food and survival, bird populations will die as oil comes ashore. Gulf Coast ecosystems are already extremely fragile because of Hurricane Katrina and other storms.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare estimates millions of birds are at risk.
“When a bird’s feathers become clogged with oil, they no longer act as a waterproof coat,” says Dr. Ian Robinson, IFAW’s emergency relief director. “Cold water penetrates to the bird’s skin and rapidly leads to hypothermia.
“At the same time, as the bird preens to try and clean the oil from the feathers, it inadvertently ingests toxic oil, which leads to symptoms of poisoning, including diarrhea and dehydration.”
“There will be a lot of people mobilized to try to save individual birds by bringing them into rehab and de-oiling them,” Dr. Rosenberg adds, “and there will be some success in saving individual birds. But whether that can save the breeding populations in these areas—we don’t know. If the oil then comes into the coastal marshes and the inshore ecosystems and kills the oyster beds and the shrimp and the fish nurseries, then there are much longer-lasting effects not only on birds, but on an entire way of life for people of this region.”
For Your Organic Bookshelf: Shattered Lives: Anatomy of an Oil Spill
Read More:Playing Russian Roulette with Our Environment
May 2nd, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
The April 22 British Petroleum (BP) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is shaping up to be the worst environmental disaster in decades—a crisis Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says is a stark reminder of the “high human, environmental and economic costs associated with the extraction of fossil fuels.”
The spill occurred after an April 20 explosion on a BP rig, which killed 11 workers. The rig capsized and sank 2 days later, and oil began to seep into coastal waters.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 210,000 gallons of oil (5,000 barrels) are leaking into the Gulf each day, endangering marine life and Louisiana’s seafood industry. Oil may now drift toward the Atlantic Ocean.
“We are taking every possible step to protect the health of the residents and mitigate the environmental impacts of this spill,” says Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.
Louisiana’s Way of Life Threatened
“This incident is not just about our coast,” says Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. “It is fundamentally about our way of life in Louisiana. Our shrimpers, our fishermen, the coasts that make Louisiana [a] sportsmen’s paradise—this all makes up Louisiana, and this is our way of life. We have to do absolutely everything we can to protect our land, our businesses and our communities.”
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has issued recreational and commercial fishery closures. Biologists are monitoring activities and conducting daily field assessments for signs of oiled areas and wildlife.
Because 2,500 sea turtles may be affected by the spill, scientists are also surveying and reporting on oil-tainted animals and other marine life.
Evan Hirsche, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, expects the spill to reach two wildlife areas: the Delta National Wildlife Refuge at the mouth of the Mississippi River and the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, designated as a wilderness area in 1903 by eco-conscious President Theodore Roosevelt. Both sites are critically important to numerous species, including the brown pelican (recently removed from the endangered species list).
“Crucial That We Address Our Dependence on Oil”
Sen. Leahy doesn’t mince words in his assessment of the disaster.
“The evidence is clear that we cannot drill or mine our way to long-term energy security,” he says.
“We need to adopt a comprehensive energy strategy that addresses the challenges of the 21st century and does not simply rely on the energy sources of the past,” he adds. “We need to be more creative and in ways that strengthen our economy, our security and our environment. Our long-term energy security depends on promoting energy efficiency and supporting domestic sources of clean, renewable power, such as biomass, solar and wind energy.
“Instead of focusing so much on securing more fossil fuels,” he concludes, “it is crucial that we address our dependence on oil, invest in renewable energy, and offer incentives for utility companies and others to use these clean, domestic forms of energy.”
For Your Organic Bookshelf: Over a Barrel: The Costs of U.S. Foreign Oil Dependence
Image courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory
Read More:BP Oil Spill: Worst Environmental Disaster in Decades?