Bob Higgins

Disappearing Oil and Gulf Seafood: Passing the Sniff Test

Posted in Environment, Labor Health and Safety, News, Politics by Bob Higgins on August 6, 2010

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For the last several days I’ve watched and read a steady stream of media coverage on the miraculous disappearance of more than a hundred million gallons of oil from the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Since the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank on April 20 killing 11 workers the NOAA estimates that 206 million gallons of “light sweet crude” spewed  from BP’s Macondo well field, fouling the waters of the Gulf,  shutting down much of the commerce of the surrounding region and creating a giant toxic bouillabaisse in which now swim whatever critters managed to survive poisoning, suffocation,  or being roasted alive.

Click on the Image for Full Size and NOAA Report

The Feds now say, as reported by the NYT, that 76% of the mess has either been picked up on the beaches, skimmed from the surface, captured by the containment process or burned off.  (I suppose breathing this stuff in the air as particulates is “perfectly safe.”)

At the risk of seeming a “Chicken Little” I’d like to point out that even if the reports of this “great disappearing” are true what is left  is something on the order of 50 million gallons of crud in the Gulf or about the same as 5 Exxon Valdez spills.

So, while BP, the Government and our happy-go-lucky news media are fighting for places on the “where did all the oil go” bandwagon I see no cause for celebration.

I completely understand that everyone in the area wants to look out their windows and see people thronging to the beaches and fighting for restaurant reservations. They naturally “want their lives back, ” and deservedly so, but because I have long experience (due to my status as a “geezer”) listening to lies from government, lies from business and lies from the media, I’m not buying it just yet.

I also know that government at all levels wants to put this disaster in the “solved” column and watch it diminish in the rear view mirror as the election approaches. The approach seems to be “if we say it is gone and no one can see it, then it must be gone.” It’s the “big lie” just repeat it often enough and the public will buy it, the media, after all, will help in any way they can.

What happened to the giant underwater plumes of submerged oil that were reported late in June? Did they sink to the bottom under the influence of the mass quantities of dispersants injected into the gusher at the wellhead? Is this massive layer of sludge lying on the bottom,  stirred by currents and slowly being absorbed into the food chain? I don’t know the answers but I do know that everyone stopped talking about “underwater plumes of oil” weeks ago.

We are being urged to return to the beaches, frolic in the waters, build castles in the sand, eat seafood in the restaurants, get back to work at fishing and above all… continue drilling, before our hard pressed oil companies get frustrated with our excess of caution and leave the country for friendlier climes.

The well is temporarily capped and a relief well is in the process and this beast may be stopped completely in a few weeks. BP is so encouraged by this that they are considering reopening the well because the reservoir still contains about 4 billion dollars worth of marketable crap:

BP left open the possibility that it could someday drill a new path into the same undersea reservoir of oil, still believed to hold nearly $4 billion worth of crude. Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said that BP hadn’t considered the option yet but that “we’re going to have to think about what to do with that at some point.” St Petersburg Times

Four billion dollars worth of oil, hmm,  at today’s prices, $80 a barrel and at our current rate of consumption  that’s nearly three days worth of oil for the thirsty old USA.  My, all this bother and trouble over three days worth of oil is beginning to make renewables look attractive.

I love seafood, nearly all of it. Living as I do in Ohio makes enjoying good seafood a rare event and given the prices this far inland, only an occasional treat. Prices for what is available since the shut down of Gulf fisheries have gone out of sight and the prospect of contamination has been real.

“If I put fish in a barrel of water and poured oil and Dove detergent over that, and mixed it up, would you eat that fish?” asked Rusty Graybill, an oysterman and shrimp and crab fisherman from Louisiana’s St. Bernard Parish. “I wouldn’t feed it to you or my family. I’m afraid someone’s going to get sick.” St Petersburg Times

Click on the Image to watch the Video at CNN

My confidence in the safety of what is now being prepared for shipment is not buoyed by the “information” provided in the CNN video linked here.

The ponderously named National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is testing seafood as it is brought in, they sniff it. Honest, they have “experts” for this and they are training more “experts as fast as they can.”If it doesn’t smell like oil it is sent to Seattle for further testing and chemical analysis. We are flying thousands of samples to Seattle for testing, we use jet fuel for this.

I have to stop here for a second and ask, “Isn’t this how we got into this awful oil dependency trap in the first place?” Why not fly in a lab or use the facilities at one of the Universities or research institutions in the Gulf area?

Beyond the oil contamination there remain the dispersant chemicals which were sprayed into the gusher with wild, wanton abandon, a practice which now looks like an attempt to create what is being celebrated as “the great disappearance.”

No one yet knows much about the toxicity and dangers to the environment, the threat to wildlife and human health of these products the foremost of which was Corexit, a compound produced by an affiliate of BP and Exxon.  (They seem to be making money on this from every direction.)

The relative toxicity of Corexit and other dispersants are difficult to determine due to a scarcity of scientific data.[3][20] According to the manufacturer’s website, workers applying Corexit should wear breathing protection and work in a ventilated area.[21] Compared with 12 other dispersants listed by the EPA, Corexit 9500 and 9527 are either similarly toxic or 10 to 20 times more toxic.[7] In another preliminary EPA study of eight different dispersants, Corexit 9500 was found to be less toxic to some marine life than other dispersants and to break down within weeks, rather than settling to the bottom of the ocean or collecting in the water.[22] None of the eight products tested are “without toxicity”, according to an EPA administrator, and the ecological effect of mixing the dispersants with oil is unknown, as is the toxicity of the breakdown products of the dispersant.[22] From Wikipedia

There is little information about this product because the information is “proprietary” and BP and Exxon won’t release it, nor, it seems will they do the research to discover the facts about its potential dangers, or if they have done the research they aren’t divulging the results because, I guess … “its proprietary?” The manufacturer’s safety data sheet states; with simple declarative audacity:

“No toxicity studies have been conducted on this product,” and later concludes “The potential human hazard is: Low.

As it stands the word from Seattle is that there are no procedures or protocols for testing the dispersants but according to NOAA official David Westerholm “tests show that, so far, “seafood reaching the marketplace is safe to eat.” Gulp.

In the past when I ordered my favorite crab cakes I didn’t have to choose between “Regular or Hi Test.”

Bon Appetit… Urp.

Bob Higgins

Related stories:

FDA: Risk of harm from oil dispersants is low

Responders to Gulf oil spill wrap up defining week

Seattle’s NOAA operation testing safety of Gulf fish

Scientists say dispersants haven’t made Gulf more toxic

U.S. Finds Most Oil From Spill Poses Little Additional Risk

Nelson blasts BP over ‘toxic brew’ of oil and dispersants in gulf

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  1. Vic Anderson said, on August 9, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Yes, in addition to the “tar” re-entraining the water column from marine grassbeds, marshes and beach sands, we have the toxic chemicals of the dispersants, AS ILL AS the original WATER- SOLUBLE oil slicks’ cancer-causing hydrocarbons of benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene and naphthalene, Among OTHERS embedded throughout the marine and estuarine food web of the Gulf from the Mississippi Delta to the Yucatan Peninsula, from microbes to sperm whales and Every EDIBLE THING in between! Don’t swallow the Obamanible BP BS!

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