Cutting Straight to the Point?

The worst spill in U.S. history

A view of BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

The latest “solution” to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill doesn’t seem to be as promising as most had hoped. BP’s idea was to use giant shears to slice off a piece of the pipe and then place a cap on it in hopes to stop the gushing spill has come face-to-face with a problem. After 6 weeks of failed efforts to stop the spill, this marks yet another frustrating delay.

Originally they were using a diamond-tipped saw, but under tremendous undersea pressure the saw became stuck in the pipe about halfway through the job. BP used the shears to cut off the remaining pipe left. Unfortunately the cut was irregular and now placing the cap will be challenging. Even with a clean cut, slicing away a section of the 20 inch wide riser could remove kinks in the pipe and temporarily increase the flow of oil… as much as 20%. The worst oil spill in U.S. history doesn’t seem to have any promising solutions and it is weighing heavily on everyone involved, including citizens.

The cap is said to be over the spill and will be placed Thursday afternoon. It won’t be on perfectly as they originally had hoped for, so it is unknown how much oil BP can siphon to the surface. August is the next step. Then BP will be placing two relief wells meant to plug the reservoir for good. This might have been a low probability accident, but it is catastrophic. BP acknowledges that. They seemed deeply apologetic about the hurt they have caused, especially to the wildlife that has been affected. Even if recognition isn’t good enough, some are temporarily satisfied they are taking responsibility and saying the criticism is “fair”.

Many hope this will be a solution

"cap project" - BP's latest attempts on slowing the oil spill until a permanent solution in August

In the end, this spill is costly to BP. This cap project will cost them around $360 million. Not to mention the $990 million they have spent on clean up, grants to Gulf Coast states and money to people and companies that have claimed to be hurt by the spill. We will not know if the large amounts of money spent on this project alone will have much of a positive effect until the cap is placed and observed. No money can reverse the effects the U.S. has suffered from this spill, but hopefully this temporary cap project can hold the spill until the relief wells are in place.

Coastal Birds Sitting Ducks as Oil Spill Approaches Shore

The effects of last month’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion, killing 11 people, is on track to surpass the devastation of 1989’s Exxon Valdez oil spill as the country’s worst man-made environmental disaster. The shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico’s fragile wetlands tend to result in stagnant tidal action, potentially creating a perfect storm of coastal destruction as the massive slick comes ashore, coating everything in its path. A host of bird species native to the region are under direct threat.

Sadly, de-oiling affected coastal birds is no guarantee for their survivability

It is peak migration season for millions of birds heading through impacted areas, and breeding season for the year-round signature coastal birds – pelicans, egrets, ducks, and terns, among numerous others. They have everything to lose if the oil slick reaches them. When oil starts mixing in water, it can change composition and transform into “mousse,” a sticky substance that clings to anything it makes contact with. The gooey matter mats and separates the feathers, subjecting the birds to hypothermia, and it prevents their feathers from repelling water. Oil also weighs down the bird, hindering its ability to fly. They swallow the oil – often ingesting significant quantities – while preening their feathers, and this leads to lung and liver damage and eventually, death.

Some effects of crude oil on coastal birds include:

  • Hypothermia and drowning
  • Poison from ingesting oil
  • Damage to the airways
  • Damage to immune systems
  • Interruption of breeding and contamination of breeding grounds
  • Thinner egg shells, causing deformities

If the oil spill reaches shore, the only hope for saving these coastal birds is quick human intervention, but that hope is slim. A study conducted of post-release survival and dispersal of cleaned and rehabilitated California brown pelicans following two Southern California oil spills in the 1990s concluded that regardless of the efforts, the brown pelicans suffered long-term injury, and that treating the birds do not guarantee further breeding or survivability.

The health of the environment reflects the health of the birds that thrive – or not – in their natural habitats. Their health or decline will eventually mirror our own.