Yours Truly, BP: The Legacy of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Disaster

The NRDC’s recent report on water quality at vacation beaches highlights the continuing legacy of the BP Gulf oil disaster, which killed 11 workers and spewed  approximately 170 million gallons of oil and released 200,000 metric tons of methane gas into Gulf waters, affecting approximately 1,000 miles of shoreline.

The report, “Testing the Waters: A Guide To Water Quality At Vacation Beaches”, states:

More than a year later, a sorry legacy of enduring damage, people wronged, and a region scarred remains. As of the end of January, 83 miles of shoreline remained heavily or moderately oiled, and tar balls and weathered oil continue to wash ashore.

…many beaches in the region have issued oil spill advisories, closures, and notices since April of last year. As of June 15, 2011 there have been a total of 9,474 days of oil-related beach notices, advisories, and closures at Gulf Coast beaches since the spill. Louisiana has been hit the hardest, with 3,420 days as of June 15, 2011, in that state, while there were 2,245 days as of June 15, 2011, in Florida, 2,148 days in Mississippi, and 1,661 days in Alabama. State and local officials took these actions in response to oil on beaches and in coastal waters because exposure to this oil can cause a variety of adverse human health effects, including headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, eye, throat or skin irritation, difficulty breathing, and even increased cancer or neurological risks for long-term exposure.

While most of the advisories, closures, and notices that were issued last year due to the oil spill were lifted by the end of the year, cleanup crews are still at work. And the spill is still interfering with trips to the beach as oil continues to wash ashore at Gulf Coast beaches in Alabama, Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi. As of June 15, 2011, four beach segments in Louisiana that have been closed since the spill have yet to open, and three beaches in Florida have remained under oil spill notice. Besides being a beloved source of recreation for local residents, tourism at these beaches is an important part of the region’s economy. In 2004 alone, ocean tourism and recreation contributed approximately $15.4 billion to the GDP of the five Gulf states (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas), so revenue lost from oil spill beach action days could be significant.


More links:

NRDC: Gulfspill

Stories from the Gulf: Living With The BP Oil Disaster

Bill Maher on BP Disaster: Our Children Are Part Of The Clean Up Crew

Bill Maher on the BP Disaster:  “What has to happen before people change?…We shouldn’t be drilling offshore at all…In 50 years when there’s no fish and we’ve killed all the animals and there’s just cockroaches and jellyfish, that’s what we’ll be eating…”


I am away this week on a low-carbon canoe trip in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. Enjoy the video!

Was Our Oil Dependency Manufactured?

Is anybody else getting tired of being told that we have to continue on the destructive oil-dependent path we’re currently on? There seems to be a large and vocal part of the population that believes because this is way we’ve been doing things for the last 100 years or so, give or take a few decades, that this is the only possible path to maintain our standard of living. The truth is, unless we take a sharp turn and start living and doing business sustainably, our standard of living is going to come crashing abruptly and painfully down. You just can’t live like there are 5 more planets like earth, like we currently do in North America, when in fact there is only this one.

If you aren’t convinced yet that oil is a dirty fuel after the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, one that is getting filthier all the time due to our growing dependence on the Alberta tar sands, go to’s “list of oil spills” page. It is a reverse-chronological  list of oil spills that are currently happening, and that have happened since the early 1900s. Hundreds of thousands of tons of oil have been spilled in 2010 already (remember we’re only halfway through the year) by seven spills around the globe.

And yet, here we are in 2010, and governments around the world are using our taxpayer money to subsidize Big Oil and Gas to the tune of $500 billion a year!  As I wrote previously, we are all subsidizing Big Oil’s war on our grandchildren!

Yet, it turns out, it didn’t have to be this way. Henry Ford’s Model T came right from the factory, in 1911, with flex-fuel capacity; it could run on alcohol and gas. And in the 1930s and 1940s, Henry Ford developed a car body that was made from hemp fiber that also ran on hemp biodiesel. According to the YouTube video clip that features it, the resulting material was “lighter than steel, but could withstand ten times the impact without denting”. It seems clear that Henry Ford did encourage hemp cultivation to use as a fuel and as a manufacturing material. This was before hemp growing was banned in the U.S. in a strange twist in their war on drugs (hemp has no hallucinogenic properties although it is related to the marijuana plant).

Here are some videos that demonstrate how we could have gone down a different path to fueling and making our vehicles, and how, if we act quickly enough, we might still be able to change direction:

Ford’s first flex-fuel car, the 1911 Model T:


Archival footage of Ford’s 1941 hemp car (the quality is quite poor, but it gives you the general idea):


More links:

B.C. Carbon Tax a Winner: The shift has been an economic boon for the province’s taxpayers and is projected to lower greenhouse gas emissions by five per cent

100 days of oil: Gulf life will never be the same again

Oil Pipeline Leak Pollutes Major Michigan River

Louisiana Local Describes Media Blackout, Horrors Of BP Catastrophe

Kindra Arnesen lives on the coast of Louisiana with her fisherman husband and two children. In this video clip  from the Emergency Gulf Summit, she passionately and eloquently describes what she saw when she was given access to the front lines of the BP response to the emergency, and also the impact the oil spill is having on the health of her children and on the clean-up workers. She also describes in  heart-wrenching detail the dead and dying marine life she has observed since oil started spewing from the ruptured well.  As she says:

The bottom line here is if the country does not stand up and say ‘no more’ – we must take action – we cannot sit back – if this stuff does not stop, guys, this is going to global. It will destroy one third of the world’s water. Bank on it. If they do not stop this, every ocean is connected and it will go on and on and on, as my daughter says, infinity plus two. Enough’s enough.



Gulf Emergency

BP Disaster in Gulf: “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”

Via Climate Progress, the background to this video from David Yarnold, Executive Director of The Environmental Defense Fund:

From a comfortable distance the BP oil disaster is depressing and horrific. But up close, it’s worse.

Two days in the Gulf of Mexico left me enraged – and deeply resolved. Both the widespread damage and the inadequacy of the response effort exceeded my worst fears. I’d spent a full day on the Gulf and we ended up soaked in oily water and seared by the journey.

By Tuesday night, I was home. My throat burned and my head was foggy and dizzy as I showed my pictures and video to my wife, Fran, and my 13-year-old daughter, Nicole, on the TV in the family room.

Images of the gooey peanut-butter colored oil and the blackened wetlands flashed by. Pictures of dolphins diving into our oily wake and brown pelicans futilely trying to pick oil off their backs popped on the screen. And, out of nowhere, Nicole put on the music from the season finale of Glee.

With all these horrific images on the screen, she had turned on the show’s final song of the year, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” The song, a slow, sweet, ukulele and guitar-driven version, couldn’t have added a deeper sense of tragic irony.

…The inspiration [for this video] was Nicole’s. This is for her, and for all of our kids – and theirs to come.



Environmental Defense Fund

Read the full post on Climate Progress.

Is there a different way of doing things, that moves us away from this dirty fossil fuel addiction we’ve developed over the last century?  Yes!  Check out Four Years.Go: A campaign to change the course of history.

Grieving in Louisiana

A poem by Paul Unruh:


April and May 2010

Part I

Grieve for the red fish and the trout

That lie belly up

Near the marsh grasses

Grieve for the brown pelican

That flounders on the riverbank

Instead of gliding proudly over

Grieve for the dolphin nearby

With oil in its eyes and nostrils

And a death ache in its stomach

Grieve for the sea turtle

The raccoon

And the lowly nutria

Grieve for the prairie marsh

As it soaks up the crude

And its ecological cycle begins to warp

Grieve for the Vietnamese and the Cambodians who survived war, Katrina and Rita

But who now sit in silence on their boats

At night time.

Grieve for the Houma, the Cajun, the Atakapa and the African American

Whose ancestral way of life is being altered

Without their permission

Grieve for the eleven

Who died while at work

On the sea

Part II

Pray for the children who do not understand

The unspoken fear and sadness

On the faces of their parents

Pray for the parents who wonder

Whether their children will learn

Their ancestral way of life

Pray for Venice, Boothville, Buras, Triumph, Empire and Port Sulphur

And for their roots

Sunk deep in the oily marsh

Pray for us all, that we may yet find a way to save the earth

And to teach our sons and daughters

To fish

Paul Unruh

Louisiana Coast. June9.2010. photo by Lois Nickel

Paul Unruh is a volunteer and consultant with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) from the Shalom Mennonite Church in Newton Kansas. He is currently working on the Gulf Coast. Thanks to Lois Nickel, Director Regional Relations & Programs at MDS for forwarding this poem to me, and to Paul for giving me permission to share it.

What BP Doesn’t Want You To See: Dead Fish Washed Ashore, Gulf Coast Birds Mired in Oil

This shocking photo was taken by NY Times reader Sabrina Bradford on a beach in Waveland Mississippi. It dramatically demonstrates the impact of the oil catastrophe on fish and the fishing industry. 37% of the Gulf of Mexico is now closed to fishing.

From Greenman 3610, this video which communicates what words cannot, and shows clearly why BP was keeping the media away from some beaches:


More links:

Click here to view Sabrina Bradford’s photo online at NYTimes “Reader’s Photos” collection.

“BP Attempts To Block Media From Filming Extent of Oil Spill Disaster

“Over a third of Gulf of Mexico waters closed to fishing”

Diver’s View of the Gulf Oil Disaster: Floating Gobs Of Death

AP photographer Rich Matthews offers people a view of the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico from underwater.  Risking his own health, Mr. Matthews has been diving into the contaminated waters with nothing more than a wetsuit, scuba gear and a video camera. This is some of what he has to say:

Splashing here forty miles offshore the images are heartbreaking. Oil so thick it blocks out almost all of the light below. Because of the darkness I stay just 10 to 15 feet under the surface, but I can see oil in every direction as far as I can look. Up and down.”

See the disturbing video for yourself, and then take the time to call your elected representatives and tell them you want clean energy NOW.


The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Part of what climate change is showing us is that human beings have to change their relationship with the world around them.  Rather than buying, using, and discarding without giving any thought to the real cost of what we are doing, we need to live in a sustainable way that recognizes that we are part of a larger eco-system and we live on a planet with finite resources.  Just in dollar terms, the real cost of a gallon of gas to Americans  – in terms of subsidies to oil companies, military presence in unstable oil-rich regions of the world, and damage to the environment, increases the price from cents to thousands of dollars per gallon – and this isn’t even counting the loss of both American and Iraqi lives.

FISH FOOD: One researcher holds up a tray of debris pulled from the garbage patch, pointing out tiny pieces of plastic that fish can swallow. (Photo: ZUMA Press)

Another symbol of the way we need to change our lives to live more in balance with our planet is what has become known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”.  This floating island of garbage stretches for hundreds of miles and has doubled in size in the last decade. It is one of five “giant gyres” in the world’s oceans where humanity’s plastic pollution collects.  Because plastic doesn’t biodegrade, the stuff just sticks around and around, causing problems for the animals and plants that call the ocean home.

It’s the poster child for a worldwide problem: plastic that begins in human hands yet ends up in the ocean, often inside animals’ stomachs or around their necks.” (Mother Nature Network)

It was interesting for me to note that following the article on Roz Savage that “reality checker” provided recently some of the negative comments implied Savage’s work to highlight the garbage patch, and the garbage patch itself,  is a “scam”:

But somehow, envirowackos will have you think that the moment something turns into garbage, it is suddenly immune to the laws of thermodynamics and entropy and remains an eternal corruption upon mother Gaia.” (comment section of CNET article “Roz Savage Rows the Ocean Blue for a Green Cause”)

The implication seems to be that the scientists who are starting to study the patch and other eyewitnesses are wrong just on principle – it can’t be happening, the writer implies, because it’s his/her opinion!  Unfortunately, this kind of non-scientific nonsensical way of thinking that substitutes opinion for critical thinking (“if I don’t like it, it must not be true”) is pervasive in the anti-science mindset that dismisses climate change, too. But sooner or later, humanity will find, the earth will run out of patience with our thoughtless disregard for natural limits.  That is the challenge that we are facing in the next 10 years – to find a different way of being on the earth, or to face the dire consequences.

For more on the Pacific Garbage Patch, check out these links:

What Is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

An Intimate Look at the Monstrous Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Pictures: Rubbish on the Oceans. NYTimes