Courtesy of MCT
The gusher that has been flowing for weeks is silenced for now, yet concerns about the ramifications are still strongly evident.
BP engineers successfully capped the runaway Maconodo oil well on July 12, stopping oil from flowing into the Gulf of Mexico for the first time in nearly three months.
It was a rare piece of good news stemming from what President Barack Obama has called “the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced.”
With hope spreading that the oil well may be permanently sealed, questions and answers concerning the ramifications of this environmental catastrophe are stepping to the forefront of people’s minds.
As sport fishing has been declared dead to rights along the coastline, local restaurants are forced to buy products from suppliers in other regions. These suppliers, aware of the current situation, are able to jack up prices due to the lack of competition, creating concerns on a local level over price increases.
“It’s affected our business and our wholesale division, it’s had a major impact,” said Frank Gonzalez, owner of Frank’s Fish and Seafood Market in the west side of Columbus. We’ve seen high-end restaurants change their menus by adding more pork, chicken, and pasta dishes because the seafood costs are too high. It’s been a tough year for everyone in the food industry.”
Another question that continues to result in varied responses is centered on who was at fault for this tragic accident.
“The people to blame for this are those from the Reagan administration,” said Eric Fitch, director of the environmental science program at Marietta College.” “The Mineral Management Service (MMS) was created under the Reagan administration, and was staffed primarily by people from the oil and natural gas industries.”
Fitch believes the MMS was incapable of providing any responsible oversight.
“There’s a famous case going back roughly two years, where workers from the Denver MMS office were literally in bed with the lobbyists,” said Fitch. “This is what happens when the industry captures the regulators, accidents are going to happen.”
The MMS name has recently been changed to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement. Obama appointed Michael Bromwich to be the head of the new agency on June 15.
Some individuals are willing to stop blaming others, and start looking in the mirror.
“In a sense we are all responsible,” said William Mitsch, director of the Olentangy River Wetland Research Park and a professor at Ohio State University. “We want our cars, our cell phones, our food and way of life, and we don’t realize we live in the most energy expensive culture in the world.”
Mitsch believes that, if America continues to use up fossil fuels at an alarming rate, the U.S. may peak in total energy consumption within the lifetimes of most OSU students.
“The energy this country craves is getting deeper into the Earth, and further out at sea, because the easy stuff has already been taken,” said Mitsch. “So accidents like this, unfortunately, are almost inevitable.”
Fitch also warned of our country’s cravings and addictions as it relates to fossil fuels.
“Even if we are done dealing with the environmental concerns, simply in terms of national security, we can’t keep importing an ever increasing amount of fossil fuels from overseas,” said Fitch. “It’s the biggest chunk of our mineral trade deficit, and we have to realize that the money we’re sending overseas will be leaking into the hands of people who don’t like us very much.”
Another common debate focuses on whether or not the dispersants used to break down oil in the Gulf of Mexico, Corexit 9500 and 9527, are actually helping to solve the problem, or exacerbating it.
“My personal opinion is that the dispersants could be a problem,” Mitsch said. “They’re not going to degrade the oil, in fact they may slow down the degradation.”
“It’s kind of like cleaning a bathroom or a kitchen,” said Mitsch. ” All sorts of chemicals are spread around the room to aid in cleaning. Only this isn’t a counter or table top, this is an aquatic eco system. It’s not scrubbed clean by using the same methods that are applied to cleaning a kitchen.”
Other aspect of the dispersants impacts, most notably the long term health affects on the people who reside along the coast, remain a mystery.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of experience using them, and certainly no experience in the volumes and the levels with which they’re being used now,” said Fitch. “It’s a very large, uncontrolled experiment.”
While some forms of the damages caused by the oil spill are obvious (for example loss of income for the locals, as well as dead birds and contaminated seafood), the overall extent of the damage is still unclear.
“I don’t know that the extent of the impact in the wetlands has been measured,” said Mitsch. “I mean, I know that there have been pictures taken of the area, but I don’t know that there is any quantitative data.”
Ongoing health concerns for the locals are also undetermined. But there are concerns.
“The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which is a part of the Center for Disease Control, deals with a lot of issues stemming from long term community exposures,” said Fitch. “They’ve posted a document that details the health impacts related to prolonged petroleum exposure. It was over 300 pages long.”
Fortunately, the water in the Gulf is saline, meaning it isn’t ingested. The same can’t be said about the seafood in the area, which had been commonly supplied to restaurants and shops all over the country.
“We’ve had customers who are concerned with the cleanliness of our products, but we’re not bringing in anything out of the Gulf,” said Gonzalez. “I was down there in the Gulf, and I think the FDA is going to shut the area down for at least two years.”
Uncertainties have been a theme throughout this tragic accident, and they seem to be growing by the day. Add to that list, the amount of time it will take to recover from this disaster.
“The oil will be on the beaches and wetlands for years,” said Mitsch. “I see the oil being there for a long time.”
Fitch was less optimistic about when the oil spills impacts would be a thing of the past.
“You know, we really don’t have any idea how long this will last,” said Fitch. “And that is what’s so scary about all of this.”