Wednesday, July 7, 2010

the Science, nonsense and consequence of the BP Oil-spill.

The notorious BP (British Petroleum-the MNC petrochem. giant) oil spill  (also referred to as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the BP oil disaster or the Macondo blowout) is a massive ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that is one of the largest offshore spills in the history of our planet with hundreds of millions of gallons spilled to date. It stems from a sea floor oil gusher that resulted from the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion which killed 11 platform workers and injured 17 others.

Volume of the spill
scientists estimate that the well is spewing out 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of crude-oil per day and possibly even more. The previous best estimates fell in the range of 20,000 to 40,000 barrels per day. The resulting oil slick covers at least 2,500 square miles (6,500 km2) of pristine marine-area threatening hundreds of miles of beaches, wetlands and estuaries along the northern Gulf coast. Moreover, changes in weather as well as the Gulf of Mexico's Loop Current, which brings water from the gulf around Florida and up the Atlantic Coast. This could affect the outcome, with a possible speed of 100 miles (160 km) a day.

Wheres the fluid headed?
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the US currently tracks wind and tidal data in the gulf, which offers an initial, course-grained look at the likely path of the oil. Now a team of computer scientists from Texas, North Carolina, and Indiana are looking to offer a finer picture of where the oil is likely to pile up, particularly as it ravages through the web of channels in the wetlands off the Louisiana coast [more here]. 
Among the biggest questions of the Deepwater Horizon spill is how much oil remains underwater and where's it heading. Now marine scientists are using SONAR to track undersea oil plumes though they are'nt sure whether the technique would succeed.
Slick-model simulations by scientists have suggested that it's "anyones' guess" when the oil would  reach the deep waters of the Atlantic! Depending on the behavior of local eddy-currents, it could take anywhere from 70 days to 6 months.

The HUGE ecological-cost of the irresponsible Spill.

The question is the following: Does our irrepressible greed have the right to kill, murder and plunder all, everything? Will we stop at nothing? O.K, now some facts.

The fragile marine ecosystem in the gulf of Mexico area and in-line of the spill flow is now hugely threatened. The future of the flora/fauna of the area remains bleak as there's a real and present threat of a total ecosystem-washout with the BP and US-govt. agencies being unable to stem the flow of the oil and/or neutralize the effects of the  viciously-viscous, dead, thick-fluid.
Among the many affected species are the Sea-Turtles (including the Ridley and the Mississippi. Loggerhead turtles) which incubate their eggs in the sands of the northern Gulf of Mexico. Incidentally, the gender of the turtle embryos gets determined by the temperature of the nest, in a time-frame of aprrox. 50-days. Scientists and volunteers are now planning a may-day evacuation of the eggs to cleaner areas to resurrect whatever is left. 

A total of 21 whale and dolphin species that routinely inhabit the northern Gulf are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The greatest threat is if whales get oil in the filtering structure in their mouths, which could lead to starvation and death. Also, when marine mammals come to the surface to breathe they may inhale hydrocarbon vapors that could potentially result in lung injuries.

 Manatees (above in pic.) are beginning to spread out along their full range of summer habitat in the Gulf, making them particularly vulnerable to the gushing oil-contaminated waters.
Apart from the glamorous marine mega-fauna and oil spill poster animals, there are numerous others which are on the brink of total-annihilation. 

Nesting and migrating shorebirds such as plovers, sandpipers and oystercatchers which nest on beaches and barrier islands are especially vulnerable to oil washing ashore onto their nesting-grounds, and so are birds which dive in the water in search of fish etc.

 The brown pelican (other dramatic pictures of affected animals is here) has not had an easy time of it. The gangling birds were only removed from the endangered species list last year, and they are already facing a very-serious threat.
The humble Fish, Shellfish and Crabs get the rough deal as the fragile delta estuary  ecosystem , which is also the breeding ground for a lot of fish, shellfish and crabs, gets drwoned under a thick layer of sticky oil. Also the North Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, Gulf-Sturgeon, Marsh-Rice Rat, Shrimps, Oysters, Planktons, Pancake-Batfish are all forced to face a grim situation as the assault of Man's greed mounts!

Sargassum, a floating seaweed, plays an important role in the marine ecosystem, harboring fish larvae, young turtles, and other marine life. Increasing evidence suggests that the Gulf of Mexico is the source for sargassum habitats in the Atlantic Ocean; and the oil spill could as well, spell the end-of-line for this benevolent fragile-weed.

Dispersants-Toxicity issues, and effect on natural oil-scavengers:
Dispersants, which include molecules called surfactants, work much like dish detergent, helping clean up oil spills by breaking oil blobs into tiny droplets. Microbes in the ocean can then gobble up the droplets more easily. The BP crews have applied more than 37,850 liters of the chemical to the gulf each day over the past month, a small portion of it in the deep ocean; and concerns over the toxic effects of the dispersants have been growing. In lab tests, toxicologists have found that concentrations of Corexit, BP's dispersant of choice, can kill shrimp or fish. The other effect, of course, is that the chemical may undermine the cleanup efforts of its own microbial allies. A few dozen microbes (like Alcanivorax borkumensis) eat oil in the ocean, but they do it in different ways. Over time, the surfactants in dispersants like Corexit might affect the ability of Alcanivorax and other surfactant-makers like it to eat oil.

May we all rest in peace! (the logo in the background is of BP).

Science-magazine  : has well-researched articles devoted exclusively to the oil-spill. This write-up acknowledges some of the data from it's articles. 

The oil-soaked images are by photographer Charlie Riedel on a beach on Louisiana's East Grand Terre Island. They are from the following URL :


  1. an interesting article.. makes me wonder about the fate of humanity.. we are digging a nice grave for ourselves-thats for sure. How big is the question...

  2. as big as we are!.....that's pretty small, actually!