Selected tags: Oil Spill

The future of Galveston Bay: Implications of the oil spill

Fishing boat coming in from Galveston Bay. Photo Credit: Roy_Luck

Fishing boat coming in from Galveston Bay.
Photo Credit: Roy.Luck

Galveston Bay is a busy body of water. It carries the traffic of the Houston Ship Channel. It is a popular recreation destination for fishermen and others. It not only serves as a home to birds and large marine animals, but also as a nursery ground for many important seafood species. It is the nation’s seventh largest estuary and among them the second most important seafood producer, behind only the Chesapeake Bay.

The immediate effects of the oil spill on March 22, 2014, are visible in the oil sheens and tar balls floating in the water and the “oiled” birds and animals that crews are trying to help. But, we can’t see how this heavy marine fuel, containing toxic chemicals including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), is harming shrimp, crabs, oysters, red drum and other fish that call the waters of Galveston Bay home. This contamination can hang around for a long time. Studies from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill show that even in low concentrations PAHs can disrupt the development of fish and invertebrate larvae; and in high concentrations can be lethal. Recent reports of tunas susceptible to deformities from the 2010 spill attest to the potential risks long after the spill itself is gone.

The timing of this spill is bad for several key species especially important to the seafood industry and consumers. Brown shrimp have already spawned offshore, and March is the month when the young ride tides coming back inshore to settle in seagrass beds and marshes, habitats that are their nurseries – and where the water is now contaminated with oil pollution. The young are especially vulnerable from now until about May or June. Young blue crabs that settled during the winter in Galveston Bay are also in danger, as are baby fish; including Gulf menhaden, a large harvest in the region’s fishing industry and a fish that is a vital food for larger fish and other animals. Marine life in the way of the oil is dying; and those not killed are exposed to toxic chemicals that could impair their reproductive potential, and some fish that feed on worms in bottom sediments may acquire and carry toxics in their tissues. The seafood “crops” in the area could well be reduced.

Anyone who has been to Galveston Bay has seen the many dolphins are other large marine life that frequent the area and eat these other fish. As these contaminants enter Bay food chains our concern turns not only to how these animals are affected by the spill in the short term, but also to their longer-term health, and even to whether or not seafood species that live there could constitute a human health risk that must be guarded against into the future. Read More »

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BP Oil Disaster One Year Later

BP Oil Spill clean up in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP Oil disaster clean up site in the Gulf of Mexico.

Today marks the one year anniversary of the tragic BP Oil Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil well blowout took 11 lives and likely forever changed the rich marine ecosystem of the Gulf. After 87 days and over four million barrels of oil released, the spewing well was finally capped, but not before it killed thousands of birds and other marine life and caused additional hardship for fishermen and coastal communities during an already-struggling economy.

Looking back a year later on the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, efforts to fully restore the environmental and economic health of the Gulf and its coastal communities continue. As EDF’s Chief Oceans Scientist, Doug Rader, explains in the Austin Statesman, “A full year after the blowout, we are still struggling, as a society, to assess the ecological and human costs from our nation’s worst oil disaster, to understand how to heal – or offset – the worst damage, and to limit future risks associated with America’s offshore energy industries.”

Read Doug Rader’s full opinion article as well as recent EDF press releases on pending legislation for the Gulf of Mexico restoration.

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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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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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Cuba’s Marine Life and Coastal Communities at Risk from BP Oil Disaster

Surface Horitzonal Current - NOAA/National Weather Service May 23rd

Surface Horizontal Current - NOAA/National Weather Service May 23rd

This week, federal regulators increased the size of the Gulf fishery closure to 37% percent of federal waters.  As the disaster continues, concerns are spreading across international boundaries, including to Cuba where the U.S. closure already abuts 250 miles of that nation’s waters. 

Most at risk is the ecologically rich northwest coast of Cuba, home to coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests.  These ecosystems are breeding, nursery and feeding grounds for fish, sea turtles, sharks and manatees.  At the same time, these systems protect coastal communities from hurricanes and storm surges.  Like the U.S., this disaster threatens important economic activity and livelihoods from commercial fishing to eco-tourism.

EDF’s Cuba program is sharing information with Cuban officials, scientists, and conservationists, helping the country keep a watchful eye on the path of the oil.   Unfortunately, the political differences between the U.S. and Cuba means there are no official mechanisms to communicate and cooperate on the crisis. 

I recently spoke at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., calling on the Obama Administration to work with Cuba.  EDF also supports similar recommendations in a report from the Brookings Institution entitled, Coping with the Next Spill: Why U.S.-Cuba Environmental Cooperation is Critical. 

For half a century, a political gulf has divided our two countries.  Finding ways to collaborate to respond to the BP oil disaster is in our mutual interest—to help Cuba prepare and respond to the worst, and to develop a strong foundation for the future to protect our shared environment.  It is time for a pragmatic approach.

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Senate Approves Help for Fisheries Impacted by BP Oil Spill

Although the oil spill in the Gulf continues to worsen, there’s a bit of good news for Gulf fishermen and fishing-related businesses.  The Senate last night approved an amendment by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) that would devote $26 million to support fishermen and to improve fisheries science because of the spill. 

The House still has to vote on the measure, so more critical funding could be added before its finalized and sent to the President. Earlier this week EDF signed a letter to Congress and the President with the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance and the Gulf Fishermen’s Association that advocated for at least $100 million in funding for direct assistance to adversely affected commercial and recreational fishermen and fishing communities, to improve fisheries science, and to make fisheries more resilient to harm caused by human activities.  Because of the size of this disaster, we see this as just a good start, and we are working to expand the scope and increase the amount over the long-term. 

 The amendment includes $15 million for fisheries disaster assistance, $10 million for stock assessments, and $1 million for a study on the impacts from the spill on the Gulf ecosystem.  Here’s the specific language.

 (1) FISHERIES DISASTER RELIEF.–For an additional amount, in addition to other amounts provided in this Act for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, $15,000,000 to be available to provide fisheries disaster relief under section 312 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (16 U.S.C. 1861a) related to a commercial fishery failure due to a fishery resource disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that resulted from the Deepwater Horizon oil discharge.

 (2) EXPANDED STOCK ASSESSMENT OF FISHERIES.–For an additional amount, in addition to other amounts provided in this Act for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, $10,000,000 to conduct an expanded stock assessment of the fisheries of the Gulf of Mexico. Such expanded stock assessment shall include an assessment of the commercial and recreational catch and biological sampling, observer programs, data management and processing activities, the conduct of assessments, and follow-up evaluations of such fisheries.

 (3) ECOSYSTEM SERVICES IMPACTS STUDY.–For an additional amount, in addition to other amounts provided for the Department of Commerce, $1,000,000 to be available for the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study of the long-term ecosystem service impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil discharge. Such study shall assess long-term costs to the public of lost water filtration, hunting, and fishing (commercial and recreational), and other ecosystem services associated with the Gulf of Mexico.

 IN GENERAL.–Of the amounts appropriated or made available under Division B, Title I of Public Law 111-117 that remain unobligated as of the date of the enactment of this Act under Procurement, Acquisition, and Construction for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, $26,000,000 of the amounts appropriated are hereby rescinded.

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