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Dispersant controversy, oil plumes persist in the Gulf

Rocky Kistner

Posted August 20, 2010 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, Moving Beyond Oil

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Down a winding road that hugs the water of Bayou La Batre in southern Alabama, out-of-work shrimp boats float quietly along the piers. Near the end of the road, the Alabama state dock houses a dozen twin-engine, steel-hulled boats that BP has under contract to do oil cleanup work. Police cars guard the entrance.  

Across the harbor at the end of the public pier, four large white plastic containers sit on pallets labeled: "Nalco Corexit EC9005A. Oil Spill dispersant. Caution: may cause irritation with prolonged contact…do not get in eyes, on skin, on clothing...."  Some of the containers have black hand-written letters on the back that says "oil waste water" or "clean water." Another container sits further away on a pallet by itself, with the same warning label but clean.

 

 

 

Earlier last week, eye witnesses say similar containers were next to the BP contracted boats that make their trips into the Gulf. Some fishermen in this area believe these boats continue to spray chemical dispersants on the oil that continues to pollute the water and shores here. Workers who worked for BP have said when they return to the docks in the afternoon, BP boats with dispersants leave to finish off the job later in the day or at night.

Yet no one seems to have proof of this. The government and BP deny they have been spraying dispersants since mid-July. But some fishermen say it’s still happening. They say those who may have proof are too afraid to come forward for fear of losing their jobs.

Dion Sutton is a former BP worker who wonders if they are still spraying. His cousin saw a plane spraying close to the nearby shore about a month ago, something BP said it has never done. Like many fishermen around here, Sutton believes it’s all about sinking the crude to the bottom, out of sight out of mind.

Common stories about spraying persist across the Gulf states, just like the oil that still moves ashore in patches, tar balls and underwater plumes. Walk to beaches of Alabama’s Dauphin Island and you can’t help but run into it, fresh blobs of weathered oil that stain once world famous white sand beaches. Take a shovel and dig and you find layers of black oily material. Thick, black clay-like oil is pushed up in man-made sand dunes, almost sticking to the vacation houses that line the beach.

 

 

Some people in Alabama are sick of being told the water's fine and are taking matters into their own hands. Commercial fisherman “Catfish” Miller has designed his own homemade testing device to hunt for plumes in the water. Yesterday, Catfish designed a unique device consisting of a large conical wire tomato plant holder he had in his backyard. He carefully bent it and wrapped white absorbent pads around the outside to create a funnel.

Yesterday with more than 10 passengers on board, including a marine biologist, he dropped the cone-shaped device into 12 feet of water near Pass Christian, AL. He left it in the water for less than a minute, then pulled it in to see how much oil it had captured in the absorbant pads. Ten times he dropped it into the water near the inland harbor. Ten times he struck oil.

 

 

“It blew their minds,” he says. “Every time we dropped it into the water it captured oil. Why can’t the experts find this? I’m going to keep at this until people really understand what’s going on here. It’s nothing more than a cover-up.”

Many people who attended a gathering of fishermen and experts last night in Irvington, AL, agree. While government reports claim up to 75% of the oil is gone, captured or dispersed, the vast majority of people attending this meeting said the oil is not only still out there, but it’s just begun to impact communities.

Prof. Steve Picou of the University of South Alabama knows that well, since he’s studied the devastating impacts of the Exxon Valdez oil disaster on the town of Cordova, AK. He says oil catastrophes such as these pit community members against each other. Some get to work on cleanup, others don’t. It’s a situation that creates conflict as people try to figure out how to reorganize their lives and make ends meet.

Rates of suicides, divorce and reports of battered women skyrocketed in Alaska years later. “This is a marathon," Picou says. “It’s not a 100-meter dash. And the gun just went off.”

Dr. George Crozier, a marine scientist with the Dauphin Island Sea lab, says what bothers him  most is what we don’t know.  No doubt dispersants have kept some of the oil out of the marshes and coastlines. But they also have pushed the oil down into the water column where the crude may not degrade for a long time. How will this impact the bioaccumulation of oil and the health of the ecosystem?  No one knows anything for sure except that it’s out there in unquantifiable amounts. “There’s no doubt we have created a monster in the Gulf of Mexico," Crozier told the audience. “We’ve learned a lot so far. But the oil is not gone.”

Gulf Shores commercial fisherman Raymond Vates told the audience he recently decided to take his scuba gear and go down to the shallow bottom of the seabed off the beach and look around for himself. What he saw appalled him. He says he saw giant pools of oily tar balls on the muddy bottom in just 20 feet of water, some as big as watermelons.

“I called BP about this but they didn’t want to hear it,” Vates said. “How could you act that way when you saw what I saw? There were kids swimming in the water around there. We can’t allow this to go on. I’m going to keep looking for it as long as I can find it.”

That may keep him busy for a long time. Fishermen from Florida to Louisiana are worried about their seafood and their safety. They don’t believe what they’re being told by the experts, especially by those working with BP. They’ve learned to believe only what they see with their own eyes. And so far they don’t like what they've seen.  

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Comments

Antifa RichtoffenAug 20 2010 10:01 AM

So . . . 75% of the oil in the Gulf is gone while 75% remains.

Why, this here is just good old Texas figurin' boys. You take your 75% and your 75% and you get one plus a whole nuther half.

And the Gulf of Texas is plenty big enough for three halves. Aww, sure it is. That's how that oil can be mostly gone while it's mostly still there.

It's about optics. You know, the way when you look at a fish down in the water it isn't actually where it seems to be. It's actually over there a little bit. It's there but it's not there.

Same with oil. When you look at oil in the water, it isn't actually there unless you know how to get it out of the water. If you savvy how to get it out of the water then it's plain to see that it's all there, and it's all BP's. Why, even the gummint will back that.

As soon as Kevin Costner or some other feller figures out how to get that 75% that's not in the Gulf back out of the Gulf it'll be BP's oil instantly, and he'll have to buy it from 'em at their price just as fast as he pulls it out. Any oil he misses isn't theirs and isn't there.

It's all about optics.

And as for the safety of Gulf seafood --

no. It ain't safe to be seafood down there, not no how.

IsaiahAug 21 2010 06:29 PM

I would have done real good with Math like that! 75% is gone and 75% is still there; makes lots of sense, as in dollars and BP sense.

Wonder how it looks on the books, and if the Govmint keeps the same numbers on their books or if their bean--counters keep different numbers...just axing.

Time to get some of the bean-counters to open their books with the govMint bookkeepers, and some of US would like to know where that OIL BP has recovered has been shipped; There are some concerns that the dispersed oil could be less stable, and could end up in pipelines and tankers; some of the recent accidents could be due to dispersants mixed with the oil.

Mike McDowellAug 22 2010 09:47 PM

Great news report. We have launched a project that is testing rain samples across North America for chemical compounds due to the gulf oil spill. The magnitude of our project has never been attempted. We do need help for those willing to volunteer and collect rain samples. More information can be found on our website at www.testtherain.com .

ElizabethAug 28 2010 04:39 AM

We are watching. BP is weasiling. The gumint is letting them kill the gulf and all us alive now, but for how long, living so close.

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