Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Truth dispersed and disposed is truth denied: Conflicting stories about BP's oil spill in the Gulf

"...dolphins whales, seabirds fish are all floating dead on the surface of the water.. see more.. see more.. boats helicopters are scooping them away dead and dying... Whales are being exploded by the military cause they cant be carried. dead bodys as far as the eye can see air smeling of benzene ..weve seen birds fall from the sky."

-- Part of an unconfirmed text message from an anonymous
cleanup worker, at BP's oil spill, to his wife, ca. early June 2010

From today's New York Times:

WASHINGTON — The government is expected to announce on Wednesday that three-quarters of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon leak has already evaporated, dispersed, been captured or otherwise eliminated — and that much of the rest is so diluted that it does not seem to pose much additional risk of harm.

A government report finds that about 26 percent of the oil released from BP’s runaway well is still in the water or onshore in a form that could, in principle, cause new problems. But most is light sheen at the ocean surface or in a dispersed form below the surface, and federal scientists believe that it is breaking down rapidly in both places. [...]

She [Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] emphasized, however, that the government remained concerned about the ecological damage that has already occurred and the potential for more, and said it would continue monitoring the gulf.

“I think we don’t know yet the full impact of this spill on the ecosystem or the people of the gulf,” Dr. Lubchenco said.

Among the biggest unanswered questions, she said, is how much damage the oil has done to the eggs and larvae of organisms like fish, crabs and shrimp. That may not become clear for a year or longer, as new generations of those creatures come to maturity.

Thousands of birds and other animals are known to have been damaged or killed by the spill, a relatively modest toll given the scale of some other oil disasters that killed millions of animals. Efforts are still under way in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida to clean up more than 600 miles of oiled shoreline. The government and BP collected 35,818 tons of oily debris from shorelines through Sunday.

But Karl Burkhart of the Mother Nature Network describes a far darker and more troubling situation concerning the actual numbers of marine animals the BP oil spill has killed, and he also returns to the issue of the disturbing media blackout and no-fly zones, often enforced by armed individuals such as police officers, about which I'm sure you've already heard. In short, credentialed journalists and scientists alike were routinely barred from entering airspace over the still-gushing Deepwater Horizon well, just as they were banned from going near marshlands and beaches, including public beaches.

There are also unconfirmed reports, from cleanup workers who furtively typed text messages on borrowed cell-phones after having their own devices confiscated (and having to sign reams of confidentiality documents in order to get a much-needed job in the first place), saying that countless thousands of corpses of birds, fish, and large sea mammals were being quietly destroyed--well out of the view of citizens, independent marine biologists and animal welfare and environmental protection groups, and the press--and possibly with the help of the U.S. military. One such text message appears at the link, and while the the post's author has not been able to contact the message sender to confirm the report, he does confirm, as do the journalists themselves, that numerous well-known media figures, including CNN's Anderson Cooper, were indeed repeatedly denied access to many of the areas seriously affected by BP's oil spill (my emphasis).

According to the latest count of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Daily Collection Report (PDF), only about 4,100 birds, 670 turtles, 70 sea mammals, and 1 snake have died in the Gulf since April 20 (assuming 50 percent mortality of live animals).

It's an astonishingly low number, considering that one of the largest pods of sperm whales in the U.S. resided just miles from the site of the BP Macondo well (aka Deepwater Horizon), a region home to one of the most abundant and biodiverse marine ecosystems in the world.

Compare those small numbers with the Exxon Valdez spill ... Best estimates put the toll of the far smaller oil spill in Alaska at more than 200,000 birds (including hundreds of eagles), more than 3,000 sea mammals, more than 20 whales, and billions of fish eggs. The accident permanently wiped out the herring population of this Alaskan Gulf region. And that was an accident 1/10th the size of the Deepwater Horizon.

The final tally of the BP oil spill is almost 5 million barrels of crude, compared to only about 500,000 barrels for Exxon Valdez — a 1:10 ratio. Yes the Alaska spill happened closer inland, but the oil was not fully integrated with the water column as in the BP gusher (a far more pervasive and deadly scenario) and neither were thousands of tons of highly toxic dispersants like Corexit, a chemical that has, ironically, been banned in Britain because of its impacts on wildlife and human health.

One would be forgiven then for assuming there should be a far greater body count than what is currently being reported by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the same government office that famously blocked Anderson Cooper from peering past the 10' high barricades that had been put up to enclose a "bird receiving" area. According to the math, the count should be in the hundreds of thousands of dead birds, tens of thousands of sea mammals, and millions upon millions of fish and shellfish. So where were all the dead bodies? We should be seeing something like the mass dolphin kill off the coast of Zanzibar (left) that resulted from a much smaller offshore oil leak.

Is it possible that a massive cleanup operation in early June was focused on collecting dead animals out at sea in naturally forming "death gyres?" According to marine toxicologist Riki Ott, such gyres of dead and dying animals were common for weeks after the Exxon Valdez spill. And we know that BP was doing everything in its power to keep dead animal photographs out of the press. Kate Sheppard and Mac Mclelland of Mother Jones documented several instances of BP actually barring photography of dead animals on public beaches.

Go and read the whole thing. And stay tuned.

(H/T Queen Mum II)

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