If you think the long-term impacts of the Deepwater Horizon explosion are going to be harmful on a variety of fronts, wait until they start opening up the ocean floor for copper, nickel, gold, silver, cobalt and more a mile below the surface.
Which, if the Chinese have their way, is about to happen, in international waters in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Papua, New Guinea.
So-called “deep sea mining” was first proposed as far back as the mid-1960s, in a book called Mineral Resources of the Seas by J.L. Mero. He described the potential as “limitless.” Over the next 20 years the U.S., Germany, France and others spent hundreds of millions of dollars investigating the possibilities. The Convention on the Law of the Sea created an International Seabed Authority to oversee potential mines; the Chinese have recently applied for a permit.
The possibility of mining the ocean floor 4,000 to 9,000 feet below the surface has been seriously rumbled about in recent years, especially in countries with booming populations thus resource needs. The Chinese are willing to pay for the risky and expensive operation and a Canadian company, Nautilus Minerals, is willing to undertake the labor.
(For the rest of my dispatch, go to takepart.com)
With the BP well apparently capped and not leaking, at least for now, I went back to a few of the Louisianans – our “voices from the spill’’ – some of whom I’ve known for years, other for many months.
I was curious if the capping had washed a big wave of relief over the Gulf States … or if they were expecting some kind of tsunami to follow on the heels of what most are regarding with cautious optimism as a positive sign.
Paul Templet recently retired as a professor of environmental science at LSU; for four years he was head of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. His experience over the years, in a state long run by the oil industry, has made him a slightly cynical realist.
He answers my question – Why did it take BP so long? – with several of his own.
“Why didn’t they have one of these caps sitting in a warehouse somewhere and put it to use three months ago. Why did they use so much dispersant, which makes the oil harder to recover. Injecting dispersants directly into the plume at the ocean floor means that the oil was distributed throughout the water column and will be difficult, if not impossible, to recover. Otherwise the oil would have risen to the surface and could then have been scooped or skimmed off the surface. But then it would have been visible and that’s why I suspect they were injecting dispersants. The booms and other stuff out there are basically useless.
“Only time will take care of the oil, but I suspect we’ll see it come ashore for years whenever we have a storm in the Gulf.”
Marylee Orr runs the state’s most effective environmental group, the 23-year-old Louisiana Environmental Action Network (L.E.A.N.). Like Templet, she skeptical if hopeful. “It seems to have worked but let’s not forget this is not a permanent fix. The relief well will still have to permanently plug the well bore so we still have a ways to go … and meanwhile we still have the crude oil slick and the dispersed oil plume coming onto shore.
Why did it take so long? She is convinced that no one ever really planned for a “worst-case scenario.”
“I almost fell out of my chair when I heard the Unified Command Center (in Houma) say there was no (plan to clean up a) worst case scenario because they didn’t believe it could ever happen.
“Also, when it comes to the clean-up, we are still using technology from 20 years ago, the exact same as when the Exxon Valdez spilled. I personally asked the EPA why there have been no advances in twenty years. And, for example, what is its plan for bio-remediation, because of all the marshes in Louisiana opposed to the beaches in the other Gulf States? We’re still not getting good answers.
One thing LEAN has noticed is an increase in suicide, substance abuse and domestic violence. “Plaquemine Parish has already seen domestic violence increase 100% since the disaster,” says Orr.
Ivor van Heerden is a coastal restoration expert. He oversaw the commission that investigated the levee failures during Hurricane Katrina and was then let go from his university research position at LSU when his report rubbed some the wrong way (by blaming the Army Corps of Engineers).
He began flyovers of the spill-impacted ocean within hours after the accident, and has been consulting with BP on how to clean up the mess.
In response to why the fix took so long, his take is that it required extremely difficult engineering, taking place a mile below the surface. “They had to fully research the problem; the integrity of the remaining riser; the structural integrity of the ocean bottom above the oil deposit; and then design a structure that would be multifaceted and allow complete closure but also the ability to bleed off oil if needed.”
His reaction to the capping is that “it is a real plus.” He also thinks the oiling of the Louisiana coastline would have been far worse already if they hadn’t somewhat successfully been managing the outflow of fresh water from the Mississippi River to combat it. “But the river is now down and the potential for serious oiling over a larger area exists. So far we have 63 miles of coastline impacted by heavy oiling.
Some locals are not as positive about the capping. “It’s like putting a Band-Aid on a dead man in my opinion,” crabber Jeff Ussury told the New York Times. He doubted the news of the capping was even true. “I started out kind of believing in them,” he said, “but I don’t believe in them at all anymore.”
“What’s to celebrate?” asked Kindra Arnesen is the wife of a shrimper from Plaquemines Parish, La., who I wrote about last week for having witnessed what BP called it’s “balloon and ponies” show.
“My way of life’s over, they’ve destroyed everything I know and love,” she said, before going on to explain, in detail, why she believes the pressure tests are likely to fail.
The most simple and direct response I got to my question (First reaction to the spill apparently being capped?) was from Dean Wilson, who lives on the edge of the Atchafalaya Swamp and is its caretaker. Dean is from Spain but has called the swamp home for the past 25 years. His two-word reply?
As BP claims to be closing in on stopping the gusher in the Gulf it’s worth revisiting the experience of one fisherman’s wife who was given unique, insider access to the company’s processes.
Six weeks after the Deepwater Horizon well exploded, BP invited Kindra Arnesen – wife of a Venice-based fisherman, daughter of a fisherman, a self-described “uneducated housewife who adds that “every man I’ve ever known, loved and respected was a fisherman” – to be a fly-on-the-wall during meetings at central command in Houma, flyovers of the explosion site, strategic conference calls and more. Even Kindra has no clue what they were thinking.
Given her feisty Louisiana upbringing it’s no surprise that Kindra has been doing some spilling of her own, to auditoriums filled with locals, Facebook, Youtube, CNN and other media. She came to BP’s attention when, several weeks after the explosion, she began complaining that her husband and his fishermen friends who’d been called on to help in the early days of the clean-up had been made sick from the fumes and chemicals dispersants.
“At first they tried to blame it on the Pine-Sol they’d used to clean the boat,” she huffs.
Perhaps hoping to diffuse her vocal complaints, BP invited her inside.
(For the rest of my dispatch from Louisiana, go to takepart.com.)
It’s a steamy, early-summer day in Southern Louisiana – expecting the “heat index” to top out today around 108 degrees F! – but it’s good to be back on the ground here. I’ve been coming every few months for the past two years, producing a documentary film, and it’s started to feel like a second-home. One with really good food … and music.
For video blog from Lafayette, http://www.takepart.com/news/2010/06/25/lafayette-louisiana-in-search-of-the-last-oyster-po-boy
Though yesterday evidence of the impact of the oil spill came home when I went in search of an oyster po-boy. At the first couple stops café owners apologized for not having any … a first in their lifetimes … because the oyster beds have been shut now for more than five weeks. When I finally did find one something didn’t feel quite right, so I asked: The oysters came from … somewhere else, outside Louisiana, was all the server could offer with a shrug.
While the spill is conversation number one (with World Cup football second), I can feel a kind of creeping frustration/resignation settling in.
In Lafayette, which has more oil-industry jobs per capita than anywhere other than Midland, Texas, there’s a fair amount of rumbling in the bars and on the street corners about the deepwater drilling moratorium, with a majority believing the New Orleans’ federal judge’s decision to start up again is a good one.
There’s lots of concern about where all that oil waste is heading. A few people have brought up concerns about the health of the workers involved in the clean-up; apparently BP is against the workers wearing respirators on the job because 1) it looks bad on camera and 2) they’re afraid people with their faces covered are going to overheat and collapse.
There’s concern too that while BP appears to be saying all the right things right now in regard to its long-term commitment and willingness to pay all “legitimate” claims that six months from now, a year from now … locals will be locked in fights with the mega-company for their money.
And still the well keeps gushing ….
Every Wednesday that I’m home I trundle a big green garbage bin to the end of my long asphalt drive; by the end of the day I find it in a slightly different position on the dusty country road, empty. Like 20 million other U.S. residents, a very efficient truck from one of the three biggest carters in the country — Waste Management — has carted my refuse away. And I hate having to admit, but I have no idea where they take it.
I’m pondering this today because last week I wondered where all the waste being accumulated from the Gulf gusher – all those sturdy plastic bags we see lining the beaches filled with tar balls and soiled sand, those absorbent “pompoms” soaked with heavy crude used in valiant efforts to mop up the wetlands, all that sludge, rags and oily booms – is taken. At the time, reports assured me that it was all heading for appropriately lined landfills specifically built to keep such hazardous waste from leaking and leaching back into the soil and water, and eventually to the sea.
But now I read that Waste Management-owned landfills – in places like Perdido, Florida, Harrison County, Mississippi and Mobile County, Alabama – are increasingly becoming home to unexpected tons of such oily refuse. And I’m wondering just how prepared they are for these unexpected additions.
Waste Management reports that in two states – Alabama and Mississippi – it tracks all the oil-soaked garbage collected from the spill areas and currently has 535 containers being used, on 65 trucks. Liquid waste from those states and Florida is all taken to Theodore, Alabama, where the oil and water are separated.
In Escambia, Florida, 15 truckloads of oil related waste is being dumped by WM at Springhill Landfill, thanks to a contract with BP. (For the rest of my dispatch, go to takepart.com.)
When Marylee Orr started what has become Louisiana’s most effective environmental organization she thought it would be a six-month commitment. “I realized how dirty our air and water were at that time and felt it was my civic duty to try and raise awareness of the problems. But I didn’t realize that it would become my life.” That was twenty-four years ago.
I’ve known Marylee for the past 15 years; we worked together initially on stories about how the big petrochemical plants lining the Mississippi were poisoning local aquifers … and not telling anyone once they learned. Standing in her Baton Rouge driveway two weeks into the spill she rests her arm on a 35-foot-long rowboat that was delivered to her last summer, rowed the length of the Mississippi from its source in Minnesota. Among the many hats she wears as executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, she is also the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper, part of the international Waterkeeper Alliance. The rowboat was gifted to her as a way for her local team to get out onto the river they help protect.
But since the Gulf oil spill, she’s been far too busy to do anything but man the telephones, 12, 13 hours a day. “We are all suffering from disaster fatigue,” she admits, “from sleeping just four and five hours a night for weeks now.
“We are responding just as we did after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Documenting everything that’s going on, trying to keep people informed, especially our fishermen. Being a conduit for information, like about what’s going on with the dispersants that BP is putting in the water and claiming are not harmful. We went to court on a Sunday to force BP to forego the contracts they were trying to get the fishermen who were going to help with the cleanup to sign. They basically said if they got hurt their own insurance would have to cover them, that BP wouldn’t cover their boats if they were damaged and that they wouldn’t be able to speak about what was happening out there, essentially giving away all their rights. We got that stopped in with a lawsuit.”
For the rest of my conversation with Marylee — and a video interview — go to The Current at takepart.com.