Gulf of Mexico: maybe you missed the bad news…

Well, natural gas has stopped flowing from a stricken rig off the Louisiana coast, the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement informs us. The rig is owned by Hercules Offshore and operating for the Walter Oil and Gas Corp, about 42 miles southwest of Grand Isle. Hercules admits Mother Nature came to the rescue, saying the well became plugged with sand and sediment, basically snuffing itself out The leak started on the morning of July 23, and the fire burned for some 14 hours. It still isn’t quite out yet, by most recent reports. (CNNAP, Times-Picayune, July 25; ENSAPHercules Offshore press release, July 24)

Of course we are assured that the threat is minimal. This lead from AP is typical: “A blown-out natural gas well blazing off Louisiana’s coast poses fewer environmental dangers than past offshore accidents because it appears to primarily involve gas that disperses relatively easily, scientists said Wednesday.” An assertion rather belied by the photos of a black smoke column rising. And of course we get the inevitable favorable comparison to the Deepwater Horizon disaster—talk about setting the bar low!

Meanwhile, a new study from Texas A&M University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a record-breaking “dead zone” area in the Gulf of Mexico this year—with oxygen-depleted water (termed “hypoxia”) already covering an area of roughly 3,100 square miles, or about the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. It’s expected to get as big as New Jersey, likely resulting in massive die-offs of fish and other marine life. This threat is actually coming from the land—nutrient pollution from farm fertilizers getting flushed in the form of runoff down the Mississippi. (Science Daily, June 27; PhysOrg, June 26; National Geographic, June 24)

But what are those fertilizers made from? Oh, yeah… oil. Every step along the way of the petroleum-based economy is earth-destroying: drilling the stuff, transporting it, burning it, or growing food in it. But we are never allowed to get the big picutre. The “dead zone” story made few and brief headlines last month when the study was released, and is now forgotten by all but the researchers themselves. Similarly, the Hercules Offshore fire will be gone from the news cycle within 24 hours, and treated as a near-miss at worst. Meanwhile, the Gulf of Mexico continues to die the proverbial death of a thousand cuts. Like the planet itself…

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  1. ‘Missing oil’ from BP spill found on Gulf seafloor

    From LiveScience, Nov. 2:

    Up to 10 million gallons (38 million liters) of crude oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill has settled at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, where it is threatening wildlife and marine ecosystems, according to a new study.

    The finding helps solve the mystery of where the "missing" oil from the spill landed. Its location had eluded both the U.S. government and BP cleanup crews after the April 2010 disaster that caused about 200 million gallons (757 million liters) of crude oil to leak into the Gulf.

    "This is going to affect the Gulf for years to come," Jeff Chanton, the study's lead researcher and a professor of chemical oceanography at Florida State University, said in a statement. "Fish will likely ingest contaminants because worms ingest the sediment, and fish eat the worms. It's a conduit for contamination into the food web."

    However, BP disputes the study's findings. The company'sdisagreement with the results, including a claim that there is no "missing oil," can be found on their website.