In the year since the Deepwater Horizon sunk, killing 11 people and pumping untold millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, much has been revealed about the causes and effects of this disaster: the chain of events leading up to the explosion, the response (or lack of response) from BP and the US government, the impact of sealife and coastal fisheries. In his most recent book, A Sea in Flames, Carl Safina lays out the timeline of the disaster, the factors the lead to such an egregious lapse in safety, the role that several corporate and government entities played, and the anger. Above all else, this book is about the rage one man feels about a situation that is almost impossible to comprehend.
February 2005 – A giant in the oil industry sets out to drill what is, at the time, the deepest oil well in the world, a staggering 32,000 feet below the sea bed. The oil field, just 28 miles from the Louisiana coast, is estimated to contain up to a billion barrels of oil. The success of this well could launch a new era of offshore drilling and revolutionize an industry. And then, after 18 months and $180 million dollars, just 2,000 feet from their target, ExxonMobil halts their drill, declares Blackbeard West unsafe, and walks away.
Barely 5 years later, a similar well, deep and deeply unsafe, would suffer a catastrophic blowout, pumping millions of barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico. The resulting investigation revealed a history of unacceptable risk and a blasé attitude towards safety on the part of BP. While the BP blowout at the Macondo well was a disaster on a global scale, Blackbeard West was a disaster deferred. How could these two incidents, both created by nearly the same conditions, have had such dramatically different consequences? What can we learn about the culture of oil exploration and the true cost of a crude economy from Blackbeard West?
Just a reminder that one year ago today, the Deep Water Horizon exploded and sunk into the Gulf of Mexico, taking 11 lives with it and starting a chain of event that resulted in the largest oil blowout in history.
Happy New Year to all our readers! 2010 was a big year for Southern Fried Science. We added a new blogger, moved to our own server, and launched The Gam. Along the way we’ve won a few awards, hosted the first Ocean of Pseudoscience week, cooked a whole pig, exposed some blatant greenwashing, challenged conventional wisdom, laid out the shark ultimatum, crunched the numbers on mercury (twice!), and had some fun along the way. After 365 days, Charlie completed his epic adventure, which spanned three continents and an ocean. I’d like to thank all our readers and commenters for participating last year, and I look forward to hearing from you in 2011.
In the spirit of the pseudoscience of astrology here are our top ten predictions for 2011, based partially on informed guesswork and mostly on Yuengling.
- Largely ignored by the mainstream media, the impact of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill will continue to be felt across the Gulf Coast. BP and NOAA will continue to make it difficult for scientists to get access to sediment cores. The first developmental effects of oil and dispersant exposure to fetuses and young children will be reported.
- Science will be more frequently put on trial, as politicians attempt to supplant peer-review by suing climate scientists and challenging NSF and NIH grants. This approach will backfire as more Americans come to accept global climate change and a new generation of Monkey Trials makes a mockery of anti-science politicians. Both sides will frequently pat themselves on the back and declare victory.
- The Southern Fried Scientist will start raising chickens, Bluegrass Blue Crab will start raising goats, WhySharksMatter will raise some sort of ruckus.
- The economy will improve, just in time for everyone to start campaigning for the 2012 election. All sides will claim responsibility for the recovery and all side will blame the opposition for the collapse. Despite almost every politician claiming responsibility for a now successful economy, most Americans won’t notice any change.
- Sea Shepherd will claim their best year ever in the Southern Ocean whale campaign, despite there being no significant difference in the average number of whales killed since 2005 – 450 (+ or – 50). Theatrics will ensue.
- Several large mammal species will make a comeback, as populations begin to rebound after years of conservation initiatives.
- As the world population continues to grow, people will slowly begin to realize that Malthus was wrong, and that in cases such as India, demographic momentum will have massive positive benefits for quality of life, food availability, and environmental consciousness.
- Every piece of plastic you used last year will still exist this year.
- Sales of hybrid and electric cars will reach an all time high. I will continue to drive the same truck I’ve driven for 10 years until it won’t run, then replace it with something used.
- WhySharksMatter will finish his book – Why Sharks Matter: Using New Environmentalism to Show The Economic And Ecological Importance of Sharks, The Threats They Face, and How You Can Help. He will decide to use a shorter title.
What are your predictions for 2011?
~Southern Fried Scientist
This is what 60 days of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico looks like.
This is what reckless disregard for safety and the precautionary principle looks like.
This is what irresponsible energy policy looks like.
This is what the end of Gulf Coast fisheries for the foreseeable future looks like.
This is what government weakened by special interests looks like.
This is what it looks like when the planet bleeds.
Today is day 64. Good night.
~Southern Fried Scientist
h/t Bad Astronomy
I’ve been a fan of Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen for a while now. His blog, iCommandant, provided a window into a world few of us glimpse. His openness, honesty, and no nonsense attitude made the iCommandant blog one of the best blogs on the internet. Which is why I began today disheartened to see that he was relieved as Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard by Admiral Robert Papp. But that sadness was short lived when it was announced the Admiral Thad Allen will continue serve as National Incident Commander for the Gulf of Mexico.
This year, it’s a different Gulf, one covered in the largest oil slick in our country’s history. No one is quite sure what the interaction between the oil and hypoxia will be. Best guess is that both stresses will mean the end for most organisms living in the area and that hypoxia will exacerbate problems associated with the spill and hinder recovery by limiting oxygen availability for detoxifying bacteria. However, step back for a minute and speculate on other possibilities: could the oil spill actually be helpful if it prevents or slows the eutrophication process? Could the damages associated with the oil spill be less than those associated with a large hypoxic zone?