Selected tags: BP Oil Disaster

Tim Fitzgerald, EDF Oceans' Senior Policy Specialist Testifies at Today's Oil Spill Commission Hearing

Tim Fitzgerald, EDF Senior Oceans Policy Specialist

Tim Fitzgerald, EDF Senior Oceans Policy Specialist

Today, Tim Fitzgerald, EDF's Senior Policy Specialist for Oceans, testified at the third meeting of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. Speaking particularly on concerns of seafood safety, Tim mentioned EDF's work with the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance to help them preserve their markets in the face of this disaster. Read Tim's full remarks:

September 28, 2010
National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, 3rd Meeting – Testimony of Tim Fitzgerald, Senior Policy Specialist, Oceans Program, Environmental Defense Fund

Good afternoon. First, I’d like to thank the Commission for the opportunity to testify today on this critically important topic. I’m a Senior Policy Specialist in the Oceans Program of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), with a scientific background in marine ecology and physiology. For the last seven years I’ve worked specifically on issues of seafood sustainability and health for EDF, and I was asked to testify today about the public perception of Gulf seafood safety and the work that we’ve begun with fishermen to address ongoing consumer concerns. For background, EDF is a leading national nonprofit organization representing more than 700,000 members that links science, economics and law to create innovative, equitable and cost-effective solutions to society's most urgent environmental problems.

As you may already know, the seafood market is inherently confusing for consumers. Most people have very little connection to, or understanding of, the fish they buy. More than 80% of fish that Americans eat is imported, coming from nearly every country on Earth and caught or farmed under dozens of different regulatory schemes and environmental conditions. Given this complexity, there are numerous opinions – often conflicting – over what seafood is “good” or “bad”. Regardless, opinion polls, focus groups, and other studies have consistently shown that quality and safety are two top concerns for consumers. Read More »

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BP Oil Disaster Hasn't Touched the Southeast Atlantic – Yet, Writes EDF's Chief Scientist, Doug Rader

The evolution of the Gulf Loop Current from a strong downstream delivery phase on May 7 to a cutoff eddy phase on June 11, temporarily detaining oil pollution. Credit: NWS.

Today in the Charlotte Observer newspaper,  EDF’s Chief Ocean Scientist Doug Rader explained why the Southeast isn’t yet tripping over tar balls in an op-ed titled, “BP oil spill not in our backyard – yet.”

For the most part, Southeasterners can thank an eddy named Franklin, which has kept oil out of the currents heading toward the Florida Keys. Instead, Franklin is pushing it westward. But Franklin won’t last forever, and the normal loop current  is already starting to reestablish itself. Once this happens, the oil again will spread east around the tip of Florida.

“Unless this week's efforts to fully cap the well are successful, the already profound toll – environmental, human and economic – could multiply, both in the Gulf and in the broader world we share,” Rader cautions.

Read other blog posts by Doug Rader on the BP oil disaster.

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BP Oil Disaster Is Not A Spill. More Like A Catastrophe.

BP Oil Disaster Clean Up Efforts

BP Oil Disaster Clean Up Efforts

When the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 people and injuring 17 others, it began a massive disgorgement of oil.  A full two months later, the oil continues to surge into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate that BP estimates of up to 100,000 barrels per day.

This disaster was and continues to be no ordinary oil “spill” or “leak.” A “spill” is something that happens on your kitchen floor and is easily mopped up and dried, or when a ship wrecks and dumps a certain amount of oil. A “leak” is what happens under your bathroom sink, remedied with some duct tape or at worst, a call to the local plumber. A “leak” may also be small amounts of oil that trickle from underwater oil pipelines. 

What is happening in the Gulf is nothing short of catastrophic.  An ecological “game-changer.”

Current estimates place the amount of oil that has flooded into the Gulf at more than 100 million gallons to date, and perhaps three times that amount – a staggering figure that makes the Exxon Valdez disaster (a total of 11 million gallons of crude) pale in comparison. Until now, the Valdez “spill” was widely known as the largest in U.S. history. By the time the flow is stopped, the catastrophe in the Gulf may well constitute the largest oil disaster in the hemisphere, and perhaps the world.

The evolution of the Gulf Loop Current from a strong downstream delivery phase on May 7 to a cutoff eddy phase on June 11, temporarily detaining oil pollution. Credit: NWS.

The endlessly expanding oil slick – which continues to spread far beyond the immediate area of the well, propelled by the Gulf Loop Current – covers thousands of square miles and has created underwater plumes that have proven exceedingly difficult to measure, let alone contain. 

Large amounts of oil have been sucked into the large eddy that formed from the northern part of the Loop Current, fated to drift northwestward towards Texas.  Only the chance development of this eddy on June 1 prevented oil pollution from reaching as far downcurrent as northern Cuba, Florida and beyond.

Only time will tell the final measure of this catastrophic blowout,  and its lasting damage to wildlife, the Gulf environment, fisheries and the regional and national economies.

But this much we can say: Characterizing what’s happening in the Gulf as a “spill” is like calling Hurricane Katrina a “shower.”

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Unseen Victims of the BP Oil Disaster

 

Floating mats of seaweed, known as sargassum, are home to a wide variety of ocean life. Credit: Steve W. Ross (UNCW), unpubl. data.

The daily count of sea creatures dying from coating with oil on the surface of the sea, or on the beaches, continues to rise.  We see sea turtles, sea and shore birds, and marine mammals, familiar creatures to us all.

As sad as these deaths are, the death toll is massively greater for animals not quite as visible, because they are small, living among marsh grasses, or under the surface of the sea, out-of-sight and thus out-of-mind.  The full litany of the dead is deeply disturbing.

Surface currents carry valuable life

The surface waters of a healthy Gulf swim with life, much of it too small to see.  Larvae of shrimp, crab, and other shellfish, and many familiar seafood fishes, spawned at sea, drift toward nurseries in coastal marshes and other shallow waters. Floating mats of seaweed, called sargassum, provide key habitats for babies of many species, now hopelessly contaminated. The interior and underside of these seaweed mats – under normal conditions – are wonderlands of life, as every offshore fisherman knows.

   
The evolution of the Gulf Loop Current from a strong downstream delivery phase on May 7 to a cutoff eddy phase on June 11, temporarily detaining oil pollution. Credit: NWS.

The Gulf Loop Current – a term now commonplace– is a superhighway in the sea for spawned babies of giant tunas, swordfish and other billfishes, groupers, snappers and other reef fishes, and even for hatchling turtles. These creatures ride the current —our version of Nemo’s East Australian Current— toward adult habitats, at risk as they pass through the 'kill zone' of oil in the northern Gulf.  

See an animation of the current loop here and see a video of the oil spreading here.

This figure represents the evolution of the Gulf Loop. Credit: NOAA.

Luckily, the chance development on June 1 of a cutoff eddy—a normal phase in the evolution of the Gulf Loop Current, where the current bends deep enough to interact with itself, ultimately cutting off a spinning gyre in the northern Gulf—has delayed the otherwise rapid delivery of oil pollution to the pristine coral reefs, mangrove swamps and seagrass beds of northern Cuba, the Florida Keys and beyond.  Delivery of oil downcurrent to those habitats remains likely, as the Gulf Loop redevelops.  In fact, the weathered oil currently held in the cutoff eddy will likely drift northwest towards the Texas coast.

The beauty, and now oil, down below

An actual track of a sperm whale diving through rich mid-water feeding zones (shown in green) from the northern Gulf of Mexico. Credit: Modified from Azzara, 2006.

Under the surface, hovering clouds of oil pollution drift with the currents, and threaten perhaps the least known elements of this magical world.  At middle depths, a profusion of life – shrimps, lanternfish, jellyfish and squids –create a layer of life so rich it appears as sonar returns to surface ships, earning the name “deep scattering layer” to scientists.  This rarely imagined world of the deep – key prey for surface diving whales, dolphins, sharks and tunas – is now being contaminated twice, as oil pollution rises to and through it, and as sinking particles carry toxicants back downward.  It is no surprise that sperm whales and other deep-feeding life forms we cherish are now numbered among the dead. 

Deepwater treasures contaminated

The Visoca Knoll coral reefs are near the Deepwater Horizon well and are home to a rich variety of life. Credit: Steve W. Ross (UNCW), unpubl. data.

On the bottom, the corals and worms get the short end of the slick.   The deep-origin oil spewing from the crippled well is polluting deepsea wonderlands that are just now being discovered, notably majestic and ancient deepwater coral reefs. The vast majority of the oil that remains in the sea will ultimately find its way to the seafloor, where worms and other sediment-eating life forms will ingest it, be ingested in turn, and continue contaminating food webs – and the very web of life – for generations to come. 

This spill impacts you, too

Put all together, every important part of the broader Gulf of Mexico marine ecosystem – upon which so many people rely for their income, and their way of life – is taking many potential knockout blows.  Productivity of key seafood species could be depressed for years if not generations to come.  Special care will be required to ensure that Gulf seafood remains safe.  There is plenty to cry about, both on the surface and in the unseen places in the deep.

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Somewhere Over the Gulf Coast: A “Glee” and BP Oil Disaster Mashup

As posted on EDF's Climate 411 blog by EDF Executive Director, David Yarnold.

From a comfortable distance – in our classrooms, around our water coolers, through pictures on TV or newspapers – the BP oil disaster is depressing and horrific.

But up close where every breath you take fills your mouth, nose, and lungs with the toxic mix of oil and industrial chemicals, where you talk with resilient and proud locals and hear their frustration, anger, and concern, where the disturbing and unforgettable scenes of a precious and fragile ecosystem in crisis are just seared into your mind – all of it is just so bad, so repugnant, so wrong in the most profound way.

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.

Seeing terns and gulls sitting on the oil-soaked booms that were supposed to be protecting their fragile island marshes – booms that had been blown or washed ashore – may have been the ultimate symbol of the devastation unfolding in the Gulf.

Or maybe it was the lone shrimp trawler, aimlessly circling off the coast, dragging a saturated gauze-like boom behind it, accomplishing nearly nothing.

Or maybe it was the desperation of the fishermen whose livelihoods had been snatched away by BP’s recklessness – and yet want nothing more than to see the moratorium on drilling lifted so their economies don’t dry up, as well.

I’d spent a full day on the Gulf and we ended up soaked in oily water and seared by the journey into the heart of ecological darkness.

By Tuesday night, I was home. My throat burned and my head was foggy and dizzy as I showed my pictures and my flip-camera 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.

I choked up. And then that resolve kicked in: I wanted anyone/everyone to see what our addiction to oil had done to the Gulf and to contrast that with the sense of hope and possibility that “Somewhere” exudes.

Long story short, last weekend, Peter Rice, Chairman of Fox Networks Entertainment, gave Environmental Defense Fund the green light to use the song. The pictures you’ll see were shot by two incredibly talented EDF staffers, Yuki Kokubo and Patrick Brown – and a few are mine.

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

David Yarnold is executive director of Environmental Defense Fund.

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NOAA Chief Promotes Transparency in Science Regarding BP Oil Disaster

Bob Dylan once sang that "you don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows."  But if you're the part of the federal government charged with conducting scientific studies of the biggest environmental disaster in the nations history, and what you say profoundly impacts millions of people's lives and the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico, then you probably DO want a weather man to say which way the wind blows.

Meanwhile, everybody – me included – is growing more and more outraged at the scale of this disaster.   We want information about what’s really happening out there: where’s the oil? How much is there? What’s the toxicity? How will the ecosystem respond?

Caught in the middle is NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco.  She has the unenviable task of conducting scientific studies in the middle of this mess and she deserves credit for promoting government transparency in the science around the disaster.  As soon as results were validated Tuesday, NOAA communicated and released to the public data from the recent scientific mission of the R/V Weatherbird II that tested Gulf water.  This was an important step to build public confidence in the government’s handling of the disaster.

Crisis situations like the BP oil disaster remind us all that the public has a right to know what’s going on. While I—and I’m sure many others—are frustrated that many of our questions haven’t yet been answered, transparency in the results gives me confidence that we are getting the full story.

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Vote on Massive Southeast Fishing Closures Passes

Today in Orlando, Florida, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) approved amendment 17A (17A) to the snapper grouper fishery management plan. Now it will go to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke for approval. 17A closes the red snapper fishing season throughout the Southeast. It also closes a 5,000 square mile area for additional kinds of snapper and grouper fishing from Georgia to South Florida. A short-term ban was put in place in January to prevent red snapper fishing, until 17A could be finalized.

While today’s passage of 17A fulfills the Council’s legal requirements to end overfishing of red snapper, it does not provide an effective long-term strategy for a healthy fishery. In reality, it reinforces many other problems:

  • Commercial and charter fishermen going out of business;
  • Difficulty in finding local fish in restaurants and stores; and
  • Recreational fishermen – including tourists – not being able to fish as much, which hurts countless bait and tackle shops, boat dealers and mechanics, and tourist hotels and restaurants.

Catch shares allow fishing as fish populations rebuild
EDF believes that catch share management is the best option for the commercial and for-hire (charter and party boats) sectors of the snapper and grouper fishery. Catch shares could potentially replace 17A’s closures with fishing seasons and reduce closed areas while fish populations rebuild. Private anglers deserve an opportunity to catch red snapper too, and fishermen and the Council have an opportunity to improve the management by exploring new tools like a tagging program.

Growing numbers of Southeast fishermen agree that catch shares are the best way forward.

Catch shares set a scientifically-based limit on the total amount of fish that can be caught and then divide that amount among individual fishermen or groups of fishermen.  Studies have shown that catch shares bring fish populations back and benefit fishermen. With catch shares, fishermen have much more flexibility on when to fish, are held individually accountable for what they catch, are no longer forced to waste tons of fish by throwing them overboard, and fishing can be more profitable.

A looming disaster: Effort shift
When 17A is implemented, fishermen will focus on other kinds of fish, instead of red snapper. This can damage other fish populations or underwater habitat. Also, the uncontrolled BP Oil Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico may push Gulf fishermen into Southeast waters. Both situations will increase the amount of fishing pressure on an already distressed fishery. Catch shares reduce the need for season and area closures and the chance of damaging effort shift in fisheries.

Catch share success is proven
Successful catch share management is in place in the Gulf of Mexico’s red snapper, grouper and tilefish fisheries and hundreds of other fisheries worldwide. Just three years after the red snapper catch share in the Gulf of Mexico went into place, the amount of wasted fish was reduced significantly, fishermen made higher profits, and fish populations were rebounding. With the BP Oil Disaster, the flexibility of catch shares allows fishermen in areas closed to fishing to sell or lease their shares of fish to fishermen in open areas.

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As Attempts to Plug Spill Continue to Fail, Use of Dispersants Will Likely Grow

A plane unloading dispersants passes over an oil skimmer near the site of Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Tuesday, April 27 (Source: Associated Press)

As attempt after attempt to plug the BP Oil Disaster fails, and the ability to drill relief wells lies months in the future, BP may spread many more dispersants into Gulf waters in the near future. Read this week’s Wall Street Journal article on this topic.

EDF’s goal for the Gulf of Mexico is to ensure that people can enjoy fishing, run profitable and safe fishing businesses and eat fresh Gulf seafood, while conserving a healthy ecosystem for the future. Dispersants are a direct threat because scientists don’t know much about how the droplets of oil and dispersant chemicals that float around will affect fish habitat or the marine food chain.

EDF senior scientist Richard Denison asks several basic questions about dispersants on his Chemicals Blog, including:

  • Why aren’t we using the safest and most effective dispersants in the Gulf?
    Richard reports that of the 18 different dispersants the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has tested, the two dispersants of choice— Corexit® brand— ranked only 13th and 16th in effectiveness. Read more.
  • What part of "contingency plan" did we not understand?
    Richard and others takes a look at the federal government’s contingency plan for dispersant use in oil spills and find that several simple questions remain unanswered, including: Read more.

    • Do the dispersants actually work to reduce the impact of the oil?
    • Is it better to disperse the oil or leave it undispersed?
    • Is the mixture of oil and dispersant more or less toxic than the oil by itself?

The bottom line is that scientists have little understanding of how dispersant chemicals will affect the Gulf and marine life. If their use is allowed to continue, BP should use the safest and most effective products available, and make a long-term commitment to support research that evaluates their ecological and human-health impacts.

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