Blog Tags: Deepwater Horizon
This morning NOAA released a report from its dolphin health assessment following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Their investigation shows the effects of the spill on dolphins in Barataria Bay, including a higher prevalence of lung disease and adrenal effects.
Offshore drilling remains deadly and dangerous years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill devastated the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. The picture above is from a massive explosion on an offshore drilling rig owned by Black Elk Inc., which killed three workers, injured multiple others, and created a large oily sheen on the ocean’s surface in November 2012.
When we told Rory and Maeve McCracken that they had won our 2013 Ocean Hero Awards in the Youth category, they were excited, to say the least: “I could barely breathe, I couldn’t move. I was so happy and so shocked at the same time,” ten-year-old Maeve explained. “I couldn’t really comprehend it at first. To me it’s just a huge honor to be listed with everyone else, let alone to win,” said fourteen-year-old Rory. The competition was stiff, but after 300 nominees, a dozen accomplished finalists, and weeks of voting, Rory and Maeve’ work to save the Gulf of Mexico won the day.
Sure, it may not be as dramatic as the fiery shots of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but this image still makes us sick to our stomachs -- An oil and gas well in the Gulf of Mexico has been leaking natural gas into the ocean for the last four days. The well, which was reportedly being closed up after 15 years of inactivity, began leaking after a "loss of well control event" at 9:45 a.m. on Monday, according to the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).
In a speech today at Georgetown University, President Barack Obama laid out his climate plan for the United States moving forward in the months, years, and decades ahead. Oceana was pleased to hear President Obama promoting clean energy like wind and solar energy, but wishes that he had also mentioned offshore wind – a form of energy that is safe for our oceans and its creatures, and forever sustainable.
Oceana’s climate and energy campaign had an eventful April. In our ongoing effort to stop East Coast offshore drilling before it starts, we’ve been working hard to prevent the oil industry from taking the first step toward drilling: seismic airguns to explore for oil.
The specifics of seismic airgun testing are worth understanding if only because the oil industry seems to be counting on Americans’ lack of knowledge about this highly specific technology in order to get a foothold in some ocean areas that have been protected from drilling since the Reagan administration.
Yesterday, members of both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate sent letters to President Obama urging him to stop proposed seismic airgun testing in the Atlantic Ocean.
The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) is currently deciding if seismic airgun testing should be allowed to search for oil and gas in the Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of seven states from Delaware to Florida.
This type of seismic testing involves the use of airguns, which are towed behind ships and shoot loud blasts of compressed air at 250 decibels through the water and miles into the seabed to search for deep oil and gas deposits. These airguns make intense pulses of sound, almost as loud as explosives, every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for days to weeks on end. The blasts are so loud and constant that they can injure or disturb vital behaviors in fish, dolphins, whales and sea turtles.
Marine life impacts can include temporary and permanent hearing loss, abandonment of habitat, disruption of mating and feeding, and even beach strandings and death. If approved, seismic airguns will threaten endangered species, fisheries and coastal economies throughout the Atlantic.
These disruptive airguns are unnecessary and dangerous and here are the top 10 reasons why:
1. Seismic airgun testing is the first step towards deepwater drilling, the same practice that brought us the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in 2010.
2. Seismic airgun testing will injure about 138,500 whales and dolphins, nine of which are North Atlantic right whales, one of the most endangered species on the planet, based on DOI’s own study, which may underestimate the impacts.
3. In Peru in early 2012, 900 dolphins and porpoises washed up on shore dead with physical signs of damage to their ear bones following seismic airgun testing. In 2008 a similar mass die off occurred for dozens of melon-headed whales in Madagascar after testing.
4. Because it displaces fish and can harm fisheries, seismic airgun testing threatens over 200,000 jobs in commercial and recreational fishing.
5. There are less harmful technologies than airguns on the horizon but they are not being considered by DOI.
6. Seismic testing or drilling in the Atlantic would not reduce U.S. gas prices by even a penny.
7. Oil and gas companies already own oil and gas leases on millions of acres of federal lands and waters, many of them are inactive and have not been developed.
8. The burning of oil and gas contributes to global climate change and ocean acidification, so new drilling in the Atlantic is not the solution to our energy challenges.
9. There is no need to conduct seismic airgun testing now, since the administration does not plan to hold oil and gas lease sales in the area until at least 2017.
10. Atlantic offshore wind could supply more jobs and energy than oil and gas in the region.
Learn more about the harmful impacts of seismic airguns and tell the President to protect whales and dolphins in the Atlantic, not drive them away.
On Thursday BP and the Coast Guard took a stealthy cruise in the Gulf of Mexico to look for oil leaking from the site of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. That’s right, two and a half years after the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, oil is still leaking near the infamous Macondo well. A miles-long oil sheen was spotted 50 miles off the Louisiana coast in September.
And, reminiscent of the early days of the disaster, BP is again not making the scope of the problem clear, according to Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA.) who, along with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), has repeatedly asked BP for underwater video and information regarding the size of the slicks. BP has denied those requests citing ongoing litigation.
"Back in 2010, I said BP was either lying or incompetent. Well, it turns out they were both,” said Markey. “This is the same crime scene, and the American public today is entitled to the same information that BP was lying about in 2010 so that we can understand the full dimension of the additional environmental damage."
Last month, BP settled its criminal penalties with the federal government for $4.5 billion. This settlement was a fraction of what it could have been, and Oceana has determined that BP still rightfully owes the American taxpayer as much as $50 billion for additional violations of the law and for the devastation wrought by the 2010 spill.
Now BP faces civil charges and potentially tens of billions of dollars in natural resource damages. If the Justice Department is truly serious about holding BP accountable for its actions in the Gulf, it should pursue those charges in full.
In the meantime, BP needs to make sure crude oil stops leaking into this sensitive ecosystem and most of all it needs to level with the public about what is happening in the Gulf.
For the past three years, whales and dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico have been undergoing what the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is calling an “unusual mortality event”—that is, they have been stranding and dying off by the hundreds (817 in all), and no one knows why. The Deepwater Horizon catastrophe provides a likely explanation, but, in fact, 114 marine mammals died in 2010 even before the devastation of the oil spill had even begun.
It could have something to do with a bacterial infection, known as brucellosis, revealed in some animal necropsies, or it could be related to environmental degradation, climate change, fishing activity, or the cumulative effects of all these combined stressors. Or, it could largely be a natural phenomenon merely exacerbated by anthropogenic impacts (though unlikely). It is truly a mystery.
What is less mysterious is the cause of death for three of the most recent dolphin victims. In the past six months, two bottlenose dolphins washed ashore, one in Louisiana and one in Mississippi, with gunshot wounds to their heads. In Alabama, another live dolphin was discovered stabbed in the head with a screwdriver. Though it initially survived this brutality, the dolphin eventually succumbed to its injuries and died. NOAA is currently investigating these cases and asks anyone with any information to call their Office of Law Enforcement hotline at 1-800-853-1964. Penalties under the Marine Mammal Protection Act range up to $100,000 in fines and up to one year in jail per violation.
The impacts of the Deepwater Horizon are being felt in -- you guessed it -- Minnesota.
White pelicans that winter in the Gulf of Mexico and have lived in an oiled Gulf have migrated to far away places such as Minnesota to lay eggs, and the contaminants inside them have traveled as well.
Preliminary testing by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources shows that petroleum compounds were present in 90 percent of the first batch of eggs tested and nearly 80 percent of the eggs contained the chemical dispersant used during the spill, called COREXIT.
The contamination of white pelican eggs is a bad sign for the developing embryos and potentially their populations. The researchers will be continuing to monitor impacts on the population for years to come, and the true impacts may not be realized for decades.
Mark Clark, a researcher helping with these studies, says, “Any contaminant that makes its way into the bird could be bad, but it could be especially bad if it gets into the egg because that's where the developing embryo and chick starts. And when things go wrong at that stage, there's usually no recovery."
The immediate loss of pelicans and other birds that were covered in oil during the spill was amazingly disheartening and graphic. But these types of sub-lethal impacts show how the next generation may be affected.
While these effects are less noticeable, they are even more concerning for the future of the population. Nearly half of all the bird species that live in the United States spend at least part of the winter in the Gulf of Mexico, and the health of the Gulf is globally significant for birds.
After the Exxon Valdez spill, more than 88% of the birds that were found dead were outside of Prince William Sound, the area immediately affected by the spill, and the number of dead birds found was only a fraction of the total killed by the spill.
The combination of those direct losses, poor reproductive success and changes in the habitat, has prevented some species from recovering, even 20 years later. Although we don’t yet know the long-term impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill, these contaminants in eggs serve as a warning sign of things to come.
We need to make sure that BP and the other responsible parties are held accountable for the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill that have likely impacted hundreds to thousands of species.
Even more importantly we need to recognize that these contaminated eggs, and the ongoing damages to wildlife, are part of the overall problem with offshore drilling and spilling. We have much better options for energy, such as offshore wind, and we should use them.