Thursday, April 29, 2010

Stench Over New Orleans: Oil Spill Worsens

While I used to do both public relations and technical writing for a government-related environmental restoration entity, which means I grasp some of the science and technology discussed regarding the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and its ecological impact, I've chosen not to write about this catastrophe. I live in the New Orleans area, and have been in a fairly decent mood of late. I don't want to slump into an environmental depression.

However, with all the tweets about the nauseating stench creeping over the city due to the oil spill and growing panic about the wetlands as we hear that the oil is washing onto the Gulf Coast shore now, I can't pretend this disaster is not happening.

RisingTide just twittered this:

Sick RT @colleenkane Of course the Gulf coast #oilspill doesn't register on U.S. trending topics. #howyouballing = way more urgent
The frustration is nearly palpable. And Humid City tweets that they're talking about the oil spill on Larry King Live tonight on CNN.

Arlene, the NOCrimeExaminer, said that the "oil spill is now gushing through blowout preventer on the sea floor & into the water." She's referencing this post from the L.A. Times, "Gulf oil spill: Drilling technology explained":
The drilling rig that blew was floating in the deep seas, about 5,000 feet above the sea floor and 40 miles offshore. Such ultra deepwater drilling rigs operate using a series of pipes nested one within another plunging to the sea floor and below, according to Tim Robertson of Nuka Research and Planning Group, an oil production and spill response consultancy based in Alaska.

... Much of the work on oil platforms and rigs has to do with inserting and extracting equipment in and out of these nesting pipes and operating the blowout preventer to ensure there are no leaks, Robertson said.

... The riser pipe bent and collapsed, and although the blowout preventer has several mechanisms designed to shut it in an emergency -- including one known as a “dead man’s switch” -- these somehow failed to close.

Oil is now gushing through the blow-out preventer on the sea floor, and through the broken pipes and into the water. It is described as light oil, which evaporates a little more easily than the heavy oil typical of Alaskan wells.

Robertson said both regulations and technology for dealing with oil spills have improved in recent decades. “But the basic physics haven’t changed,” he said. “Once the oil is in water, it’s a losing ball game.” (Read more)
Officials at BP, the company that owns rights to the oil and leases the rig from a company called Transocean, say they cannot yet be sure exactly how the explosion occurred Tuesday night, April 20. The New York Times reports BP officials estimate that this oil spill will cost the company several hundred millions of dollars, and it's already put a dent in its corporate image.

Driving in the car earlier this week, I heard about the impact on wildlife via NPR and have seen photos at CNN. Experts say this oil spill could be the "nation's worst environmental disaster in decades." It could equal or eclipse the infamous Exxon Valdez spill of 1989. I remember that the nation talked about that ecological disaster for a decade.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

I don't know. It could be hormones, but if I linger too much in this oil spill news, it really upsets me. I'm not an engineer, but having talked to so many of them in the past about environmental risks and damage, I think I may be feeling what mechanical engineers feel sometimes before they fly. Knowing more than the average amount of information about how the plane works, they sometimes get jittery.

Or I may be flinching at memories of Katrina, how I felt seeing the city underwater while I was in New Jersey. The first-hand accounts of the landscape after the waters receded as told to me by friends and family. I'm not an outdoorsy type, but even then I personified nature in one of my poems, "Lady Pontchartrain Dreams She's Dying." It's a poem that I reveal and hide online, hide because I'm embarrassed by the passion I felt writing it and that I still feel when I read it or think about what's in the world beyond my control, and yet I won't change a word of that poem. It sits in a moment of sensing loss.

You may have heard that Governor Bobby Jindal has declared a state of emergency since "the Coast Guard confirmed that the undersea well was spewing five times as much oil as previously thought and that it was leaking from three spots instead of two," per the Times Picayune. In addition, President Barack Obama has increased federal involvement.

We've lost human lives over this, and now we're losing animal life. I hear the brown pelicans that make me smile flying over the lake are in danger. That state bird feels like home to me as much as New Orleans music, as much as the French Quarter, as much as the Seventh Ward.

People do care about this crisis. Last time I checked, more than 11,000 comments have been logged at the Huffington Post.

But more people won't care about this spill until the financial devastation is fully calculated. I think for now, many people, especially those who don't live near the Gulf Coast, look at this disaster the same way we've been told to view spilled milk. Don't weep and worry about it. All you can do is clean it up, and move on. The problem is that a glass of spilled milk is a trivial matter, but thousands of gallons of milk would be overwhelming. Now consider that it's not milk in the sea that's washing to shore but oil. BP has confirmed at least 200,000 gallons of oil per day is spilling.

Read more at WWL-TV and also In addition, New Orleans Ladder is doing round-ups of articles and posts.

1 comment:

Editilla~New Orleans Ladder said...

We're covering it as closely as possible on the Ladder.
Last night I started following BBC Radio around Midnight our time.
They were all over it with continuous updates and interviews.

The major media is getting set up in the Media Staging Area the Feds have put together in Venice La.

History begins today, again, in Louisiana with a scene which will redefine our sense of Apocalypse as the hubris in our Fooling with Mother Nature is lain upon our shores.