The ‘worst en­vi­ron­men­tal disas­ter’ that wasn’t

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Said marine sci­en­tist and for­mer Louisiana State Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Ivor van Heer­den, who also works as a BP spill-re­sponse con­trac­tor: “There’s just no data to sug­gest this is an en­vi­ron­men­tal disas­ter. I have no in­ter­est in mak­ing BP look good — I think they lied about the size of the spill — but we’re not see­ing cat­a­strophic im­pacts. There’s a lot of hype, but no ev­i­dence to jus­tify it.”

These ob­ser­va­tions came not a year af­ter the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon blew up, but a mere three months af­ter­ward, mak­ing them all the more blas­phe­mous at the time. By now they’ve been am­ply vin­di­cated, mak­ing the Obama team’s “mora­to­rium” and more re­cent stonewalling on Gulf of Mex­ico drilling per­mits all the more pre­pos­ter­ous.

I grew up in south­ern Louisiana and spend most week­ends along the Louisiana coast hook­ing, spear­ing, gaffing, blast­ing and other­wise as­sas­si­nat­ing the raw in­gre­di­ents of fam­ily meals. So I have more than a ca­sual concern with the BP oil spill.

The rea­sons this “disas­ter” fiz­zled out are many and were ap­par­ent to non-hack sci­en­tists from the get-go.

“Peo­ple don’t com­pre­hend how so much oil could break down in such a short time pe­riod,” ex­plains LuAnn White, a tox­i­col­o­gist with the Tu­lane Univer­sity School of Pub­lic Health and Trop­i­cal Medicine who also serves as di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Ap­plied En­vi­ron­men­tal Health. “But we have nat­u­ral oil seeps in the Gulf, and over 200 gen­era of mi­crobes that break down oil al­ready ex­ist there.”

“It can­not be re­peated of­ten enough,” says Louisiana marine bi­ol­o­gist Jer­ald Horst. Crude oil is a nat­u­ral sub­stance; it’s biodegrad­able. It’s a feast for mi­crobes. And these con­sumed most of it from the BP spill.” The hor­rid black goo that leaked into the Gulf of Mex­ico from the BP spill last year is cer­tainly toxic — but so are broc­coli, beer and salt. It all de­pends on the dosage. In fact, that hor­rid black goo has spilled nat­u­rally into the Gulf for mil­len­ni­ums — at the rate of two Exxon Valdez spills an­nu­ally.

A study by the Depart­ment of Oceanog­ra­phy at Texas A&M Univer­sity found 600 “oil spills” into the Gulf, all an­cient if not pre­his­toric, all an­ti­sep­ti­cally “nat­u­ral” and all cour­tesy of earth god­dess Gaia. In fact, these “spills” prob­a­bly saved the sur­vivors of Her­nando De Soto’s plucky band of ex­plor­ers, who record caulk­ing their boats in 1542 with the abun­dant tar balls found along an east­ern Texas beach. The study also re­ports that in 1909, a gen­uine gusher was spot­ted in the same area, shoot­ing crude oil high into the air from the Gulf floor.

Not all these gush­ers lie be­low the Gulf, how­ever. In fact, one of Mother Earth’s big­gest “spills” is off South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s coast at Coal Oil Point, not far from the homes of “en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists” Leonardo DiCaprio, Char­lie Sheen, Barbra Streisand, Brad Pitt, Ed Be­g­ley Jr. and many, many oth­ers of their ilk. This spill gushes an es­ti­mated 3,000 gal­lons of crude oil daily into the waters off Mal­ibu beach. Yet none of the above “ac­tivists” ap­pears overly agi­tated over this “disas­ter.”

Noth­ing nor­mally soothes the sav­age beast of an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist like the no­tion of a sub­stance be­ing “biodegrad­able.” In­deed, the term “en­vi­ron­men- tally friendly” has be­come al­most its synonym. Well, crude oil is about as biodegrad­able as sub­stances come, es­pe­cially when spewed into warm, mi­crobe-filled waters like those in the Gulf of Mex­ico. Hence the strato­spheric dunce caps crowning so many “en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist” heads a mere year af­ter “the worst en­vi­ron­men­tal disas­ter in U.S. his­tory.”

“The dam­ag­ing ef­fects of the mas­sive oil spill in the Gulf of Mex­ico will be felt all the way to Europe and the Arc­tic!” a “top sci­en­tist” told a con­gres­sional panel last year, as re­ported by CNN.

In fact, the dam­ag­ing ef­fects were hardly vis­i­ble in Louisiana a few months later. Mr. van Heer­den, who spent most of his days in­spect­ing the Louisiana coast, found that less than 1 square mile of coastal marsh had been se­verely oiled, mostly around Tim­balier Bay. That’s out of 5,300 square miles of Louisiana coastal marsh and swamp, by the way.

And by last July, the “se­verely oiled” ar­eas were al­ready bounc­ing back.

“Ah,” you ask, “but what about that poi­sonous chem­i­cal used as a dis­per­sant for the oil?”

You prob­a­bly in­gested traces of this poi­sonous chem­i­cal com­pound with last night’s din­ner, and other traces prob­a­bly coat your pots, pans, cups, spoons and forks right now. Some peo­ple call the dis­per­sant Corexit 9500 — and some call it soap. Es­sen­tially, it’s Dawn dish­wash- ing de­ter­gent.

“Dis­per­sants are not very toxic,” ex­plains Robert Dickey, di­rec­tor of the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Gulf Coast Seafood Lab­o­ra­tory.

Af­ter the spill, the FDA’s Gulf Coast Seafood Lab­o­ra­tory, the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Na­tional Seafood In­spec­tion Lab­o­ra­tory, the Louisiana Depart­ment of Wildlife and Fish­eries, the Louisiana Depart­ment of Health and Hos­pi­tals and sim­i­lar agen­cies from neigh­bor­ing Gulf Coast states have me­thod­i­cally and re­peat­edly tested Gulf seafood for cancer-caus­ing poly­cyclic aro­matic hy­dro­car­bons (PAH).

“Not a sin­gle sam­ple [for oil or dis­per­sant] has come any­where close to lev­els of concern,” re­ported Olivia Watkins, ex­ec­u­tive me­dia ad­viser for the Louisiana Depart­ment of Wildlife and Fish­eries.

The proof of the abun­dance of Louisiana’s marine life is in the eat­ing, but first comes the catch­ing and spear­ing. So let’s head to an off­shore oil plat­form a few months af­ter and a few miles away from “the worst en­vi­ron­men­tal disas­ter in U.S. his­tory!” and take a peek.

Hum­berto Fontova grew up in New Or­leans, grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of New Or­leans and later re­ceived his mas­ter’s de­gree from Tu­lane Univer­sity. He has been writ­ing for the hunt­ing and fish­ing mag­a­zine Louisiana Sports­man for al­most 30 years.

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