Oil is on the beach – now what?
–Dan Howells is deputy campaigns director for Greenpeace USA. Any views expressed here are his own.–
On repeated trips over the last couple of weeks, Greenpeace found the first traces of oil coming ashore at Port Eads, the southernmost tip of Louisiana.
Greenpeace’s mission in the Gulf is to bear witness and record what might be the biggest environmental disaster of our lifetime and to provide independent assessment of the harm that is being done to the ecosystem, and share stories of what we are seeing.
As BP’s PR machine works overtime to spin this “clean up” as successful, statistics from the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation show 85 to 90 percent of the oil still remains in the environment ruining both habitats and economies.
Greenpeace along with conservation specialist Rick Steiner collected samples of the oil on the beach and documented what they saw with photographs and a couple of Bell jars full of goopy mess.
We found the oil in many forms –a shiny coating slicked onto the reeds, thicker globs caked with sand, and a slight sheen on the marsh waters.
It may not sound like much but unfortunately it might be a sign of more to come. Oil reaching Port Eads shows the oil is coming into the mouth of the Mississippi putting even more species that thrive in Louisiana’s coastal habitats at risk. Birds like the endangered brown pelican, other animals, and plants are seriously threatened by this onslaught of oil.
We have gone time and again from Venice LA, with reporters from Reuters and NPR in tow, on the Greenpeace boat, the Billy Greene.
Our goal was to collect still more samples of what we were finding, and see if other areas around Port Eads were affected.
We returned to the area where we originally found the oil to find more, and explored other water ways to see booms with oil on them offering further proof that the oil is moving inland.
We piloted the boat in the nearby channels, and found several places where workers in hazmat suits were cleaning up the oil and putting it in large trash bags – first BP, and then the coast guard shooed us away from those areas. By the numbers of workers there, we’re assuming there’s a lot to clean up—and yet BP wants us to think everything is going just swell.
However, new estimates place the amount of oil at 10 times what was previously thought – as much as 2.1 million gallons of oil per day.
Where is it all going? It is staying below the surface where it will affect the fish and marine life that make this ecosystem so rich: the dolphins, shark, rays, spawning bluefin, and whales—as well as the oyster beds and shrimp populations that are the backbone of the $2.8 billion fishing industry in Louisiana.
I’ve seen with my own eyes the dirty oil on the booms surrounding Breton Island, home to thousands of birds. I’ve seen dolphins swimming in waters near where boats dragged booms trying to scoop up oil.
Greenpeace continues to call for an immediate stop to plans for new offshore drilling and a clean energy revolution to break our dependence on dirty and dangerous fuels.
The most urgent step is to stop plans for offshore drilling in Alaska’s pristine Arctic waters. It is outrageous that even as crude oil continues to spread into the Gulf of Mexico, Shell Oil’s plans to begin exploratory drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas have not been stopped.
And as a court challenge to those Arctic drilling failed, the focus is now squarely on Interior Secretary Ken Salazar who can easily stop it. As difficult as clearly it is to respond to an oil spill in the temperate waters of the Gulf of Mexico, responding to an oil spill in the Arctic would be fraught with problems, and “clean up” is impossible.
This isn’t just about BP developing a better backup plan, or how much boom they can lay down around the vulnerable barrier islands. There will always be spills and blowouts as long as we continue operating like we have in the past.
The only way to prevent dirty energy disasters like the Gulf oil spill is to end our addiction to dirty and dangerous sources of energy like oil.
It’s just not worth the risk.
Photo shows Greenpeace volunteer Lauren Valle walking along a sandy beach on the east bank of the Mississippi River where it meets the Gulf of Mexico as globs of oil wash up on shore in Louisiana May 17, 2010. REUTERS/Hans Deryk