When, on August 4th, President Obama’s chief environmental adviser Carol Browner put the White House stamp of approval on stats claiming “74 percent of the oil spilled into the Gulf” had already been cleaned up, captured, burned, dispersed, evaporated, degraded or dissolved in the water … most of the people I know living along the coastline of Louisiana rolled their collective eyes.
Mike Roberts, a shrimper who lives on Barataria Bay – the hard-hit marshlands leading to the Gulf – said, “they obviously haven’t been to my backyard recently, which is still caked with oil.”
His wife Tracy Kuhns, Louisiana Bayoukeeper and director of the local family fishermen’s association, has been outspoken about BP and the government’s math since the gushing began. “They haven’t gotten it right from the very beginning when they told us only a few hundred rather than a few thousand barrels were leaking a day … why should we trust them now?”
On the other side of the estuary, P.J. Hahn, a Republican politician whose job it is to look after the future of the coastline of Plaquemines Parish and has been out on the water virtually every day since the gusher first began, said of the federal government numbers “they sound just too good to be true.”
One thing those “too good to be true” stats helped produce were some very optimistic news reports. “Sunshine is evaporating the oil, and bacteria are rapidly digesting it,” reported Bloomberg Businessweek.
“In a year or two we can forget this ever happened,” Roger Sassen, an adjunct professor of geology and geophysics at Texas A&M, told Bloomberg. “The fact that the Mississippi is the drainage ditch for the fertilizers and nasty agricultural chemicals of the entire central U.S. is much worse than this transient spill.”
(For the rest of my dispatch go to takepart.com)
I built a fence in my backyard this summer, which seemed to require more zoning and inspection, applications and approvals than much of what we see built along the coastlines of the U.S.
It’s a fact that while zoning laws have been pretty tightly regulated on land, for more than a couple hundred years we’ve had a far more lax approach to that can do what on the ocean.
As a result, ocean-lovers are crediting the Obama Administration with some foresight for recognizing soon after it took power eighteen months ago that the country needed some kind of overarching national ocean policy, not so different in scope from the Clean Water and Clean Air acts which have been law for nearly four decades.
The mess in the Gulf has highlighted why the country needs some kind of comprehensive approach to managing and protecting the ocean and coasts. Half of the country lives along its edges; millions of jobs are created there, contributing hundreds of billions to the GDP. But the fragmented way we’ve managed the ocean and coast in the past has had a spotlight shown on it daily since the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank more than 100 days ago.
The coast of Louisiana may be the poster-child for why we need better ocean/coastal management: A Dead Zone the size of New Jersey grows each summer thanks to fertilizers washed down the Mississippi from 31 northern states. Its coastline is eroding at the rate of a football field every 30 minutes thanks to nearly one hundred years of shortsighted management. Various industrial pollutions credited to the big oil, gas and petrochemical operations that have operated there with a kind of free will for decades have caused obvious problems. On top of all that, there is a sizable fishing culture that has often been encouraged or allowed to overfish. Add in the coming trends of ocean farming all operated within spitting distance of the country’s third largest port and you realize how big a stew is brewing in just this one region.
(For the rest of my dispatch, go to takepart.com.)
Last week’s Rally for the Economy in Lafayette, Louisiana, went largely unnoticed outside the state, though 11,000 vociferous oil workers, their supporters and the elected political elite of the state showed up and shouted to the rooftop about their concerns over the continuing moratorium on deepwater oil drilling.
The Cajundome on the campus of Louisiana University was packed with those who see the greatest crime created yet by the BP mess is the federal moratorium which its opponents say has already cost thousands of jobs and taken tens of millions of dollars out of the local economy.
The overarching sentiment at the event, sponsored by the state’s gas and oil lobbying group, was that, yes, the environmental mess may be bad … but the economic hit to the oil industry caused by the moratorium is far worse. The first 3,000 attendees got free t-shirts, others wore their own emblazoned with oil company logos or slogans like “Drill Baby Drill” and “No Moratorium.”
Twin themes emerged as more than a dozen politicians took to the stage. “You’re playing politics with our livelihood!” and “The moratorium is an attack on a way of life!” were the rallying cries, messages that were rowdily applauded here in the heart of Lafayette Parish, where 40 percent of all jobs are tied to oil and gas.
(For more words, pictures and video from the really, go to takepart.com)
Is it really possible that the planet’s blue space is at risk of being completely consumed and abused?
Given the gusher in the Gulf (86 days and counting) it is easy to imagine man having nothing but negative impact on the world’s ocean. But with 72 percent of the planet covered by salt water is it really possible that our one big ocean could truly be at risk of what some have dubbed “ocean sprawl?”
I’d like to say no, that the ocean is simply too big, that while the its fringes may suffer from man’s flagrant contempt, won’t the bulk of it be protected simply by its its depths, its enormity, its far-awayness?
Then I remind myself just how rapacious we have proven as a species.
Man’s heavy footprint on the ocean came to me the other day flying low in a helicopter south of Port Fouchon, Louisiana, headquarters of the state’s $70 billion a year oil industry. Below, everywhere I looked were scattered oilrigs, shrimpers, tankers, small fishing boats, floating docks and barges, stretching for many miles away from the coastline.
Let’s not be fooled by current events though; it is hardly just the oil industry that is threatening Planet Ocean.
Oil and natural gas are obvious villains, in part due to the BP spill, but also the infrastructure that accompanies it, giant physical rigs and infrastructure carrying resources from seabed to shore.
But we use – and abuse — the ocean in hundreds of ways, from fishing to generating electricity, from tourism to military protection. Shipping lanes collide with the migration routes of endangered whales. Fish farming booms while climate change alters ocean chemistry. Power lines, reefs, lobster traps and sunken ships compete for seafloor space. New energy sources including wave generated power and offshore wind turbines each eat up space. Every year coastal development destroys 20,000 acres of estuaries and near-coast fish habitat (Louisiana’s coastline alone loses 25 square miles a year, a football field every half hour). Urban waste runs-off into the ocean, so do millions of gallons of pesticides from farm fields. Plastics and cigarette butts are the most common types of ocean litter. And then there are those damn oil spills.
It is the cumulative impact that is most worrying. Is the ocean’s future to become some kind of watery version of Houston – paved over, horribly polluted, with no zoning, no controls.
Around the globe three billion people live within an hour of the ocean. In the U.S. the ocean that surrounds creates more than two million jobs and more than $128 billion in gross domestic product each year. One impediment to taking care of and monitoring man’s impact is because there is no one agency or policy controlling it. In the U.S. more than 140 laws are administered by six different federal departments and twenty different agencies, each operating under conflicting mandates and often failing to coordinate with one another in their efforts to “look after” our ocean and coastlines.
Within months of taking office President Obama set up a first-of-its-kind task force to put together a federal plan for the ocean and coastlines. He stocked it with some of the best and the brightest drawn from the marine biology world. Since issuing an interim report ninety days after it was first set up the task force has been largely on hold as the same team has devoted itself to the Gulf of Mexico oil gusher.
For all those good intentions, which I hope arrive at some kind of national Ocean Policy, ever since man started using the ocean – to explore, to open trade routes, for resources – he has approached the ocean with a single mindset: Out of sight, out of mind.
It is in part the ocean’s very vastness and seeming toughness that has allowed us to continue to abuse it.
That has to change, for the ocean’s sake, for our sake.