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Another Gulf Spill! When Does It End?

The oil that came to shore last weekend doesn’t seem to be coming from BP. The U.S. Coast Guard and Louisiana State authorities believe they have traced the crude back to a well operated by Anglo-Suisse Offshore Partners, LLC. Anglo-Suisse claims that they spilled only about 5 gallons of crude, from a shallow-water well that they were plugging. The USCG begs to differ, claiming that their tests and that of the Louisiana State University show that the crude matches up with a well they have some 30 miles offshore, at the shallow depth of 210 feet.

Anglo-Suisse agreed to head up the ocean pollution cleanup efforts, and began doing so this Friday, March 25th, 2011. Far from an admission of guilt, the company continues to maintain that they are innocent. It’s obvious that it took more than 5 gallons of crude to put a sheen on 150 square miles of ocean. The oil was seen from West Timbalier Island to Grand Isle — a 30 mile span — but the oil only came to land to affect something less than half a mile of beach.

For now and in this instance, the cleanup seems to be under control. Crews are removing oil by hand and installing boom to keep crude from washing into inland regions. Six oil skimmers and five barges are at work. At this time, it looks like Anglo-Suisse will be held responsible for all costs.

Jury’s out on whether they’re telling the truth or not, but this brings to light a very foundational problem: The oil spill controls rely upon the honesty and forthright integrity of the oil wells’ owners and operators. Ann Rolfes, of the environmental action group, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, drives home the point: “We have thousands of spills every year. The BP spill just called attention to it, but it’s really the Wild West out here… There are laws on the books that are unenforced…” Considering that Anglo-Suisse didn’t step forward to acknowledge that they even had a spill until the Coast Guard made the allegation public, it’s looking like the Honor System is a failure. With all of the funds that these wells generate, it seems reasonable to expect some independent ocean monitoring.

When President Obama ordered a moratorium on new well permits, that was a step in the right direction. Since then, though, the President’s mandate has expired and his appointee for Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salizar, has authorized the issuance of new well permits, angering environmentally conscious people everywhere. Protect The Ocean feels strongly about the matter as well. Land-based oil well spills can be contained. The DP debacle proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that offshore wells’ toxic spills are a risk that our planet’s waters simply cannot afford to take.

As of last summer, there were some 3500 drilling rigs inthe Gulf, and 79 of them are deepwater. Wait, go back and read that again. THIRTY-FIVE HUNDRED WELLS? There is just one inspector for every 56 rigs… and most of them are unmanned. Here’s a visual to help grasp the enormity of the situation:
Swordpress Map of Oil Rigs

When does it end? It’s pretty obvious that there have been spills going on for quite some time now. As the dominating species and supposed stewards of this earth, we need to understand the scientific reality: The oceans’ waters only sustain life under a fine and fragile balance. There are at least 84 elements (if memory serves properly) and far more aspects of their combinations, and all of those elements, combinations and balances must be just right for saltwater to sustain life. Throw off any one aspect and that fragile balance crumbles. If we continue the present rate of decline in oceanic health, the result will be much like the falling of a house of cards — one here, one there, and then, suddenly, an avalanche of collapses that brings it all crashing down.

Allow us to be perfectly clear: There is a point at which the oceans cannot recover, a point of no return. If we allow the oceans to continue to be polluted and used as toilets for industrial waste and mistakes, that destruction is eminent. For thousands of years, man has been relatively impotent, unable to do significant harm to the planet. In the past 100 years (since the Industrial Revolution) we have suddenly become a very powerful bull in a shop full of very delicate china. Optimistic estimates give this planet’s oceans 20-30 years at the current rate of decline. Catastrophes like the oil spills (plural) that happened all over the world last summer translate to a strong acceleration of that timeframe. If the planet suffers some other unanticipated catastrophe, the crash could easily happen much, much sooner.

Consider this fact: Big as the Gulf Oil Spill was on the news, the Gulf is but one small area in the world’s oceans.  Australia, for example, is both the closest landmass to the last of the pristine waters on our planet, and is home to a huge number of reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef.   At this very minute, though, oil companies have plans to drill in over  THIRTY new offshore oil exploration areas.  Now, for the first time, some of them are being allowed to be drilled in Marine Sanctuaries.  Mark Bailey informs that there’s a natural gas plant being built right now that will dump effluent directly into a whale breeding area, threatening whales as well as the grasses of their manatees!  Now multiply such encroachments by all the places that have industrialization all over the planet, and it doesn’t take much to figure out how we have at least 5 garbage patches in the oceans now — some twice the size of Texas!

Protect The Ocean’s motto remains our guide: By protecting the ocean, we bring life and health to ourselves. It has never been more important that we realize how basic that islander truth is. Though it’s out of sight, three-quarters of this planet is ocean. We can no longer afford to allow out of sight to be out of mind. We cannot survive if we do not make significant changes to the ways in which we interact with this planet. So… protect the oceans. This is the only home we’ve got.

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Corexit’s Foul Stench

We have been reporting (and reporting about) the dangers of Corexit since the beginning of its use in the BP Gulf Disaster. Amongst things that we at Protect The Ocean have noticed is that Corexit is detectable in significant concentrations within shoreline waters days ahead of the arrival of the oil itself, and in beach waters that show no sign of oil contamination. Corexit is lethal to fish fry within 96 hours (and the stuff has been in there a lot longer than 96 hours) at just 2.6 ppm, that’s a pretty serious concentration! The fact is that far lower concentrations have proven lethal on fish fry when the duration went to 2 weeks.

A local Channel 5 news station at the Gulf did some independent testing. They took samples of water that children were playing in, and found Corexit solvents in concentrations ranging from 16 ppm to well over 200 ppm. Needless to say, I wouldn’t want anything in (or from) those waters if it could be helped. There’s no doubt that employing Corexit to bury the oil beneath the surface (where they wouldn’t be forced to pay for cleaning it up) was their contingency plan in case of major catastrophic leak. There’s little doubt that they realized the potential ramifications of infusing the stuff at 133+ atmospheres of pressure in cold water. Read more

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PTO sounds S.O.S. in the North Pacific; Can The Flotsam!

We wrote about the flotsam whirling about in the middle of the Pacific a few years back.  Guess what?  It’s still sitting there, killing wildlife.  But it’s degrading as well, turning everything toxic.  Not only are the Algalita’s famous Nikes still out there, but they seem to have been joined by a couple BILLION plastic shopping bags, plastic oil bottles, plastic nets, and tiny balls of gunky plastic.  Collectively, they’re taking huge tolls on everything from the common seagulls to endangered turtles and Monk Seals.  

We’re calling for a full ban on plastic shopping bags, and will provide you with a list of unsavory facts, and reality below.  But more than that, Protect The Ocean is calling for a massive clean-up.  We’re talking about something bigger than any shoreline clean-up ever.  We want to net up and haul in as much of the Eastern Garbage Patch’s flotsam as is humanly possible — and we want to do so now.  

The Eastern Garbage Patch’s continued existence at the current and increasing concentrations can only serve one good purpose: It reminds us that we must stop being so careless about the deadly plastics.  Meanwhile, its very existence means that it continues to kill and poison literally trillions of sea creatures.  But guess what else?  That toxicity, which is being picked up and ingested by all that marine life?  It’s making it to your dinner table at this very moment. 

Plastics aren’t biodegradeable.  They break down into even smaller (and increasingly more toxic) pieces, but they don’t EVER go away.  As they sit in the ocean, they last even longer.  In this one case, that may prove a good thing for us, because it’s a lot easier to scoop out pieces that we can readily see than to try to filter out pieces of plastic the size of plankton.  Already, there are millions of pounds of plankton-sized particles out there, and it’s only going to get worse if we don’t pick  it up.

Algalita’s research informs us that “broken, degraded plastic pieces outweigh surface zooplankton in the central North Pacific by a factor of 6-1.” SIX pounds of tiny pieces of plastic for every one pound of plankton.  Just imagine what that does in a whale’s gut.  It’s worse than non-nutrition, because the stuff is toxic, poisonous.  When marine life swallows it, they ingest the poison.  

That’s not the only danger.  Those shopping bags are just strong enough to tangle up marine mammals, fish and birds, wrap them up and drown or suffocate them.  Pieces of plastic look just enough like potential food to be eaten… and the death toll is staggering, the numbers unbelievable.

Our sloppiness is coming home to roost.  The plastic isn’t just killing off marine life “out there somewhere” anymore.  Its toxicity is affecting us here on land as well.  

The battle needs to be fought on two fronts.  We need to start using fabric (preferably cotton or other natural renewable resource) shopping bags.  It’s really not that difficult.  Just fold ’em up and put ’em back in the car when you go out again, and you’ll have them with you next time you go shopping.  MANY other nations have either banned the bags altogether, or taxed them so heavily that they’re seldom used anymore.  China made it illegal to give them away and now uses 37 million less barrels of oil each year by having done so.  Much of Europe has given them up, often voluntarily.  Bangladesh and Rwanda gave them up long ago, and many other African nations have since followed suit.  What are we waiting for?  

The other step also needs to happen now.  That war is one we need to wage on the high seas.  We need to go out and collect our trash, police ourselves as best as we can.  Not next year, not the year after.  Not after our ship comes in.  Now.  RIGHT now.  This year, by whatever means necessary, whatever it takes.  When you’ve got that kind of toxic waste sitting out there, growing larger by the minute, there’s simply no more time left.  This is plastic.  It’s not going away by itself — Not this year, not this century. The only way that pile of trash is going to get cleaned up is if we go out there and do it ourselves.  It’s not going to be an easy job, nor a pretty one.  It’s downright disgusting, but somebody’s gotta do it, and we here at PTO are tired of talking about it.  

We’re issuing a S.O.S.  We need all the help we can get.  In the near future, Protect The Ocean will be calling upon all environmental groups, including Sea Shepherd, Greenpeace, Algalita, the Ocean Conservancy, Surfrider, and the governments of the world.  We’ll be petitioning the plastic makers and shipping companies as well, asking them for their assistance and cooperation in what will be the single largest environmental clean-up effort ever undertaken.  It’s going to be a very big, very messy job.  Some have described that area as being twice the size of Texas… but no matter how big it may be, it simply has to be done.  

We need your support — both in contacting your representatives and urging them to help us in our efforts, and in your contributions.  Let them know that you want them to help us Can The Flotsam.  Please, we can’t do it all by ourselves.  We’re going to need volunteers of all kinds.  This is HUGE.  Will you help us clean up the Eastern Garbage Patch?

Here’s a few quotes to consider:

“Plastic bags do not biodegrade, they photodegrade; over time they break down into smaller, more toxic petro-polymers” — CNN, Nov. 16, 2007

“A plastic ‘stew’ twice the size of Texas has formed in the Pacific Ocean. Scientists have dubbed I the “eastern Garbage Patch,” and its volume is growing at an alarming pace.:  Best Life Magazine, Feb. 20, 2007

“Plastic bags have been found floating north of the Arctic Circle near Spitzbergen, and as far south as the Falkland Islands.” — British Antarctic Survey

“Plastic bags account for over 10% of the debris washed up on the U.S. Coastline.” — National Marine Debris Monitoring Program

“Nearly 200 different species of sea life including whales, dolphins, seals and turtles die due to plastic bags… They die after ingesting plastic bags which they mistake for food.” — World Wildlife Fund report, 2005

We’re sending out an S.O.S.  on behalf of the oceans.  Will you heed the call?