Number Crunching

When the oil rig blew out on April 20th sea water rocketed 240 feet into the air before methane gas and oil followed. Over 210,000 gallons of crude oil is flowing into the water each day. There are over 4500 personnel responding to the Horizon Oil Spill and at least 2500 volunteers. A four story, 100 ton concrete and steel vault was lowered over the main oil flow onto the floor of the Gulf of Mexico at a depth of 5000 feet yesterday. Almost 275,000 gallons of chemical dispersant has been used in the Gulf and the EPA says they really don’t know how toxic the dispersants are to the marine environment but they continue to apply thousands of gallons each day.

Eleven men lost their lives and more were seriously injured.

The oil rig costs BP $500,000 per day to contract from the owner, Transocean, the world’s largest offshore drilling company. The cost to operate the rig during the course of production is $1,000,000 per day…yes, ¬†one million dollars per day.

Worldwide there are more than 4000 rigs working at depths up to 6000 feet. The deepest offshore rig, Shell Oil’s Perdido Spar, is operating in nearly 8000 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico. 16,000 spills occur every year in U.S. coastal waters but most slip by unnoticed.

According to Dr. Sylvia Earle, “After the Exxon Valdez oil spill only 4% of the oil spilled was recovered during the critically important three weeks following the accident. Hundreds of sea otters died, thousands of sea birds died and billions of small creatures quietly died as a consequence of human error exacerbated by human indifference.” In 1991, in an act of ecoterrorism Saddam Hussein ordered the release of 500 million gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf after Iraq lost the war with Kuwait. 8% of that oil was recovered.

These are simply statistics and numbers from the recent past–1989 through today. We don’t know the lost income from fisherman and others who depend on a healthy environment to earn a living. We don’t know how many animals will die or how many people will get sick from fumes and exposure to toxic chemicals. When you begin to do the number crunching, it just doesn’t add up.

But rather than stay stuck in the gloom and doom, we can empower ourselves by taking steps to make a difference. The hair salon I use is saving hair they usually throw away and they are sending it to a non-profit who uses it to make oil-absorbing booms and mats. People along the coast are receiving training so they can safely help with cleanup efforts with the coastline and wildlife rescue and rehabilitation. Some are using anger to fuel positive changes, others are using prayer to ask for help and many are doing the day-to-day task of whatever their jobs call for through service in the Coast Guard, EPA, oil companies, local and state governments…..and the list grows.

The outcome of this tragedy is unknown because two flows are still occurring–but the smallest of the original three has been capped. This is a bit of good news. Dr. Earle says that up to half of oil spills will evaporate and there are naturally occurring bacteria and other microorganisms that can help break down some of the oil. She also reminds us that oil is organic, despite its toxic components, and it eventually breaks down if exposed to air. Small bits of hope to cling to but any bit of good serves to tip the scales against all the negatives.

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