I was saddened and discouraged to read that the ‘top kill’ solution for the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico didn’t work. I can only imagine how people who are directly affected feel. As this crisis continues, I begin to better appreciate how interconnected we are on this planet.
Specifically, I’ve come across a local (Vancouver, Canada) debate about oil spills and liability. One of the daily newspapers and a news station recently featured information about a local marine oil spill (from a Chevron refinery) which occasioned debate on a Vancouver civic blog about environmentalists, hyprocrisy, the desire for oil, and reflections on crime, punishment, and what’s occurring in the Gulf of Mexico.
CityCaucus.com has a May 29, 2010 posting (Oil refinery irony) which makes some harsh points about environmentalists going to check the local oil spill via a motorboat. The points are true and the option suggested, canoeing to the site, is difficult for me to grasp as being a serious option which drove home for me not just the dependency on oil but also the unconscious reliance on how and the speed at which news is conveyed.
The piece managed to attract a very focused and succinct summary about BP’s culpability. First, the quote which mobilized the comment (from the May 29, 2010 posting),
As Vancouver technologist and Twitter fiend Tim Bray said yesterday:
Unlike apparently everyone, I’m not pissed at BP. You gonna live on fossil fuel, shit gonna happen. BP drew the short straw.
It’s certainly concise (how could it be otherwise with a 140 character limit?) and, I think, true in its way. We do live on fossil fuel and as the sources diminish we will be extracting that fuel in more complex and dangerous ways. Still, Sean Bickerton pointed out in his comment (May 29, 2010 posting on the CityCaucus blog) a few issues with BP,
While our need for oil drives exploration in more and more technologically challenging environments, it’s not demand that produced the worst environmental disaster in American history – that would be the negligence, fraud, incompetence, and greed of a reckless BP that:
* bypassed even minimal safety precautions
* used the cheapest casing and sealants known to have exploded on other rigs
* ignored clear safety concerns of their own crews and engineers
* ignored the fact their own well was out of control, insisting underlings cover up the explosive gas coming up the pipe
* refused to undertake adequate testing of the blowout valve despite known problems
* had no backup plan or equipment in place despite mounting dangers on the rig.
We have every right to insist that risky exploration and drilling be done to the highest environmental and safety standards, and that companies put their worker’s safety and the environment before gouging another penny of profit out of the most lucrative business in the world.
Whether a sin of commission or omission, If terrorists had done what BP has done, killing eleven workers on that rig and fouling the entire Gulf Coast and much of the Gulf of Mexico, the full might of the international community would have been mobilized to attack the entity responsible and all of their assets would have been seized.
Where crimes have been committed, those responsible should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
I can’t speak to the accuracy of the list other than to observe that with a catastrophe of this size, more than one thing went wrong and this list covers major points.
Meanwhile, the debate over the attempts to mitigate the damage have fostered a controversy over a solution that claimed to be nanotechnology-enabled. Andrew Shneider at AOL News has written a piece, which has some good points and some misinformation all pulled together into a toxic brew.
The company, Green Earth Technologies, has applied to use what they claim is a nano-enabled dispersant for the oil spill in the Gulf. There has been strong opposition to this as noted in Schneider’s article. At this point, Schneider finds an expert who makes comments that suggest he is not familiar with any of the nanotechnology research he appears to be referring to.
Andrew Maynard at 2020 Science provides an analysis of the company’s (Green Earth Technologies) product and notes that the company did not do itself any favours by being overoptimistic in its product safety claims. Andrew excerpts the company’s website product description in his posting,
G-MARINE Fuel Spill Clean-UP! is a unique blend of plant derived, water based and ultimate biodegradable ingredients specifically formulated to quickly emulsify and encapsulate fuel and oil spills. These plant derived ingredients are processed to form a colloidal micelle whose small particle size (1-4 nanometers) enables it to penetrate and breakdown long chain hydrocarbons bonds in oils and grease and holds them in a colloidal suspension when mixed with water. Once oil has been suspended in a nano-colloidal suspension, there is no reverse emulsion; the oil becomes water soluble allowing it to be consumed by resident bacteria in the water. This dispersant formula is protected by trade secrets pursuant to Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) Standard CFR-1910 1200. The ingredient list has been reviewed by the US EPA and contains no ingredients considered hazardous by OSHA.
Here’s where the company went overboard,
Does G-MARINE OSC-1809 Oil & Fuel Spill Clean-UP! have any adverse affects on humans / animals or the environment?
None whatsoever. G-MARINE OSC-1809 Oil & Fuel Spill Clean-UP! has shown absolutely no adverse effect on humans or animals. [emphasis mine]
Yes and a peanut can cause an adverse effect if you’re allergic.
Do read Andrew’s textual analysis of how the NGO’s got it confused, a description of how the term nanoparticle is being used as a synonym for carbon nanotube and, for fun, read the comments. Schneider’s expert showed up to question Andrew’s credibility as an expert.
I also found this post by Tim Harper, principal of Cientifica and author of the TNT Log. From a May 29, 2010 post he made prior to attending the latest World Economic Forum meeting,
I often despair when policy on environment and health issues seems to be made without any recourse to science, whether on MMR vaccines, GMO’s or the Louisiana clean up.
The real question I’ll be looking at in Doha [where the World Economic Forum is being held] is [how] much longer are we going to have to wade through obfuscation from all sides while the planet dies?
I quite agree with the sentiment. We don’t have time and I am tired of obfuscation from all sides.
Pour revenir à mes moutons (meaning: getting back to where I started, the literal meaning: returning to my sheep), I think the impact of this oil spill will be felt in ways that we cannot yet imagine and those ways will be profound and global.