Monday, October 21, 2013

Lest we forget the tragedy of BP's Deepwater Horizon Spill ....

           I no longer rely on our national news networks to provide real news in their daily broadcasts.   More and more, I find the need to turn to the internet to learn about what is going on in the world particularly on environmental concerns.  This is logical when you consider, after all, the source of their revenues.  Who is advertising on these networks? -- the fossil fuel companies.  We, as energy consumers need to be vigilant of the dangers of fossil-fuel based energy sources and wary of under-reporting by the national media outlets.  My goal in this post is to summarize some of what I have learned from internet sources lately about the BP trial and the historic and continuing impact of this spill on the environment.  This post will include some short and long videos and numerous links to a variety of articles.  As such, this post will not be a quick read but hopefully,  the links and videos chosen will be informative and provocative.  

           About 12 days ago, I received in my inbox an e-mail newsletter from Audubon which included the powerful, disturbing video below.  I learned also that it was broadcast for 2 days (September 30 and October 1) on a continuous loop on a 16-foot, high definition LED billboard  in New Orleans outside the courthouse this year as Phase 2 of the BP Oil Spill trial began inside.  This video, a product of the National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Environmental Defense Fund, and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, reminds us of the need to restore the Gulf coastline and to hold BP accountable for its negligence.

          Seeing this video reminded me again how unreliable the national news networks were for reporting important issues.  Why would Phase 2 of this trial not be a top story on all of the  national news networks?  I am not sure that I heard many reports on Phase 1.  What happened then?  Some sleuthing provided some answers which I can now share with you. 

          This Times-Picayune of Greater New Orleans newspaper article from February 22, 2013 details the goals of the two Phases of the trial, the defendants and the plaintiffs.  This New York Times article from September 29, 2013 discusses the outcome of Phase One and provides more information as to the position of the plaintiffs and the defendants in Phase Two.  The goal of Phase Two is to determine just how much oil was spilled as BP is responsible for a fine per barrel under the Clean Water Act.  Of course, BP, the plaintiff, is claiming that less was spilled than the government, one of the plaintiffs.  This NPR Morning Edition story from October 8, 2013, along with comments, provides additional perspectives on Phase Two.  For truly detailed information on testimony in Phase Two of the trial, you can read this Times-Picayune article from October 8, 2013.  Testimony concluded in Phase Two  2 days ago, Friday, October 18 and now the judge will be setting a schedule for the the penalty phase (Phase Three?).  To read more of what is to come next, this Times-Picayune article from October 18, 2013 provides the most detail on this complicated effort for justice.  Additionally, this latest Times-Picayune article leads out with a slide show of disturbing images of the history and impact of this massive and unprecedented spill on the environment, the economy, the people of the Gulf Coast states.  For a briefer summary of the wrap-up of Phase Two, you can read this article from the Associated Press from October 18, 2013.

         With the passing of the federal law, the RESTORE ACT, eighty percent of the fines collected will go to the Gulf coast States for restoration.  Personally, I hope that the maximum penalty is set as these coastal habitats and communities need these funds.  Furthermore, a strong message that negligence and then duplicitous cover-ups will not be tolerated needs to be delivered to the fossil-fuel industry.

          We do not yet fully understand the impacts of this gargantuan spill on the environment.  For example, multiple reports continue of distressed and dying bottle-nosed dolphin and of sea turtles and of massive mats of oil washing ashore.  From the beginning, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has worked to document and report on the effects of this oil spill and the need for restoration of the diverse and protective habitats of the Mississippi delta.  The following haunting and visually disturbing  video produced by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology one year after the spill documents its effects at that time.  The video however ends on a hopeful note as John Fitzpatrick, director of the lab, comments that by learning how birds respond to the stressors that we humans have added to their natural environment, we can make changes to help these systems to rebound and to improve the landscapes. 


           So what do we need to do with the RESTORE ACT funds?  In order for us to better understand what needs to be accomplished in restoring the coastal areas of the Mississippi Delta, we need to fully comprehend the historic and current geology of the area.  A naturally-formed delta maintains itself.   But the Mississippi River has been so grossly modified over the years for flood control and navigation, that the natural protective elements of these landscapes have diminished significantly.  The amount of marsh and land lost each year due to these modifications is astonishing and frightening.  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology also produced the following 24 minute video to show how the delta was formed, how it has been modified and to discuss how we can implement practices to sustainably restore the area so that the delta is again growing land.


           As I have watched these videos by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology,  I have noted all the same species that they have occur along our North and South Carolina coastal areas -- only we lack, thankfully, the industrial backdrop of oil platforms.  Yet, many of our politicians would like to bring drilling for natural gas to our coasts.  They argue that the ugly rigs would be so far off shore that they would not affect tourism as the views from our beaches would be preserved.  They do not address, or if they do, they gloss over the danger of oil spills arguing that the industry has the appropriate safeguards in place.  I would argue that these same politicians who would risk damaging our fragile coastal environment, food supply and tourism-based economy should take a look at the government's own figures on oil spills in the US since 1986.  Under-reporting on national news networks of disastrous fossil fuel spills has continued for quite a while.  Check out this time-lapsed graphic of pipeline spills from 1986 to the present created by the Center for Biological Diversity from data provided by the Federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. 

             Certainly, we have not been informed by our national news outlets of all of these events.  As an energy-consuming public, we also need to be cognizant of the dangers that a fossil fuel energy sourced system brings.  We ourselves need to consider our energy consumption choices and push the energy producing industries and our government to invest in the development of truly clean and sustainable energy sources.  In short, we need to stop relying on fossil fuels as a primary source of energy.  Enough is enough.  It is time for a new energy future and for a different set of choices -- lest we forget the tragedy of the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf. 

             I will close this post with one more beautiful video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology which depicts the birds of the Mississippi Delta and their habitats much like our bird species and habitats on our coasts.  This is what we need to work to protect.

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