(NASA photo shows oil slick moving toward the Mississippi delta on April 29)
There’s an old children’s song about the hole in the bottom of the sea. We used to sing it on the way home on our camp bus, endless stanzas about the speck on the flea on the wing of the fly on the tail of the frog on the bump on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea. We used to laugh about the hole in the bottom of the sea. No longer.
Today the hole in the bottom of the sea is a catastrophe of unknown proportions.
BP Petroleum made that hole to extract the riches of oil to fuel modern life’s incessant demand for energy. The benefits of drilling into the ocean floor have been considerable; the risks, however, were unknown or deliberately diminished.
Until today. Today we know the catastrophic risks of punching a hole into the earth’s crust miles under the surface of the ocean. Today the oil slick from the exploded well in the Gulf of Mexico is reportedly the size of Jamaica; soon, without a remedy, the oil will ruin the coastlines and marshlands and wildlife habitat and fishermen’s livelihoods from Louisiana to Alabama to Mississippi to Florida and perhaps even more. Scientists are beginning to suggest that the oil could travel on the Gulf Stream around the Florida Keys and up along the east coast.
As the ruptured well spews more than 200,000 gallons of oil daily into the once-pristine Gulf waters, BP officials and government leaders seem stymied about how to fix it. The rupture is so deep that no humans can travel to the site. Robotic subs have tried, but with no luck thus far.
Some estimates say that it will take up to 90 days to come up with a solution. By then, 18 million gallons of oil will be smothering the nests of pelicans and egrets and terns and heron and making it impossible for shrimpers and crabbers and fishermen of all types to earn a living. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska released 11 million gallons into Prince William Sound, until now the worst environmental disaster in this nation.
No one knows the ultimate outcome of this terrible tragedy in the Gulf, one that has already claimed 11 lives of the oil rig workers who died in the first explosion. What we do know is this: the demand for environmental scientists and environmentally savvy business and political leaders, already huge, will grow even more urgent as a result of this disaster. The “perfect storm” of a manmade environmental catastrophe in a region already heavily stressed by natural disasters — how much more disruption can the good people of Louisiana take? — is an economic and social calamity as well, not just environmental.
If there’s any small comfort from the terrible news in the Gulf, it may be that plans to drill for oil off the Virginia coast are on hold, and “Drill, baby, drill!” is a fading echo.
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