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.