Environment Forum

Boom or bust in oil spill fight

The giant Gulf of Mexico oil spill is breaching some of the apparently threadbare defenses that are being used contain it.

The National Wildlife Federation took a group of journalists on Thursday on a tour of some of the affected south Louisiana wetlands. Scientists on the tour took samples of oil that have washed into wild cane fields that tower more than 10 feet above the water.


The smell of oil hung thickly in the humid air and its presence was clear at the base of the green cane and reeds, which was darkly discolored.

Many of these small islands of wetlands were surrounded by the white protective boom which has been laid out to prevent the oil from seeping in. Clearly, the oil was flowing beneath it and/or washing over it, a point underscored by the dark splotching on the boom itself.

It is a well-established fact that this is  not 100 percent effective. The boom in this case, I was told, is absorbent boom, which is designed to repel water and soak up oil.

Will biofuel from algae look like Big Oil or Big Agriculture?

Hundreds of companies and laboratories are racing to find an economical way to make “green crude” from algae. The biofuel industry is grappling with a series of hurdles, which players readily recognized at a summit this week in San Diego and we cover in this story.

One question asked by one of the sector’s early leaders is will biofuel from algae look like Big Oil or Big Agriculture.

Steve Mayfield, who directs a new center for algae biotechnology at the University of California, San Diego, believes it should be more like agriculture.