'This Scares Everybody' Says BP: Top Kill Fails, Imperils Gulf; 'There Are No Solar Spills'

British Petroleum's attempt to plug the petroleum gusher a mile beneath
the Gulf of Mexico through a "top kill," pumping mud into the oil
pipeline in hopes of plugging it up, has failed, according to Chief
Operating Officer Doug Suttles.

The LAT quotes him as saying, chillingly, at a news conference
Saturday in Robert, LA, "After three full days, we have been unable to
overcome the flow from the well, so we now believe it is time to move on
to another option . . . This scares everybody - the fact that we can't
make this well stop flowing or the fact that we haven't succeeded so

Worse, the best estimates of independent scientists for the amount of
petroleum being released daily is now north,
possibly well north, of 25,000 barrels a day

To put this rate in perspective, it should be noted that oil
companies routinely invest substantial resources to get fields going in
places such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Iraqi Kurdistan that pump
7,000 to 15,000 barrels of petroleum a day

Every 1000 Americans consume roughly 68 barrels a day of petroleum.
This statistic means that what is gushing up from the BP well equals the
daily amount of oil used by 367,000 Americans per day, that is, by
cities the size of St. Louis or Minneapolis. Imagine all the cars and
trucks filling up in such major cities every day, and the buildings
using heating oil, and imagine taking all that oil and gasoline and
dumping it in the Gulf of Mexico. Every day.

Although spectacular oil spills of this magnitude are relatively
rare, pumping petroleum out of the ground or sea and transporting it
routinely results in spills that damage the marine environment.
Americans could learn a lot from the problems that beset the
Persian-Arabian Gulf, where nearly two-thirds of the world's known
petroleum reserves are found. In fact, BP or British
Petroleum got its start as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company
William Knox D'Arcy discovered petroleum in the deserts of Iran in 1908.
BP has its origins as a colonial institution, and has had a powerful
impact on both Iran and the US. The other
Gulf has suffered spills and contamination
through the Iran-Iraq
War of 1980-1988, the Gulf War of 1990-91 and the Great Oil Spill that
attended it, and many lesser catastophes ever since. Mysterious
multiple deaths of marine wildlife are baffling Iranian scientists and
alarming Iran's few environmentalists
. Since President Obama said
initially that he wanted to reach out to Iran, maybe cooperation on this
issue would be a place to start.

I was amused at the Radio Free Europe's comments about about the
politics of petroleum pollution in Iran: "The reaction of Iranian
officials is notable, and arguably fits into a pattern among states with
poor records of accountability. Reports on Persian Gulf pollution and
threats to other natural areas suggest that local efforts provide the
most effective response and that the environment is not a priority for
the state generally. Environmental issues very rarely feature in the
speeches of senior officials. Reports frequently suggest that low-level
officials block potentially destructive projects or react to degradation
at an initial and local stage, but do not always receive systematic
backing from officials in Tehran. In Iran, when economic interests clash
with the environment, money is given priority."

Couldn't we just replace "Iran" with "the United States" and "Tehran"
with "Washington" in the above paragraph?

What will happen to this petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico? About 40%
of it will evaporate. If a lot of it washes ashore, the 'evaporation'
will mean fumes harmful to wildlife and humans (people are already being
sickened from exposure along the Louisiana coast).

Then, most of the rest will eventually be eaten by bacteria and
released as carbon dioxide. The bacteria find it difficult to munch
down when the oil is clumped together, and the point of the dispersant
chemicals being applied to the massive oil slicks is to scatter the
petroleum into smaller concentrations so the bacteria can get at it.

There is a real danger, however, of vast
underwater plumes of petroleum forming, two of which have been
, which cannot be reached by dispersants and so will
remain a threat to underwater ecosystems much longer, coating coral and
destroying other ecosystems.

Even with regard to the dispersed petroleum, the bacteria can use up a
lot of the sea's oxygen in the process of breaking it down. And,
molecules will bind to oxygen, oxidizing. The petroleum has the
potential of adding another set of 'dead zones' to the
one that already stretched into the Gulf from the mouth of the
Mississippi, created by fertilizer (nitrogen and phosphates)
, which
cause phytoplankton to increase like crazy, producing a "bloom" of algae
that can deplete oxygen in the water. Likewise, when anaerobic
bacteria eat the algae and multiply, that process further decreases the
amount of oxygen in the water.

In essence, the petroleum that does not evaporate may have effects
similar to the fertilizer effluent already spilling into the Gulf from
the Mississippi basin, permanently killing off a lot of life in the
Thousands of tiny fish are already washing up dead on the Louisiana

The much smaller Exxon-Valdez spill killed billions of salmon and
herring eggs and as many as 250,000 seabirds. Only ten percent of the
oil was recovered, with most of the rest infesting the underwater sand,
being degraded by only 4% a year.

You can get a sense of the size of the primary oil slick versus your city here

All that is not to mention the oil contamination of the delicate
marshes along the coast. Something like three-quarters of the shrimp
and two-thirds of the oysters produced in the US come from these
ecosystems along the Gulf coast, and they are likely to be destroyed for
the medium term. Apparently you had a choice between offshore drilling
and shrimp cocktails, and you chose offshore drilling.

For the fisherman living along the Gulf, this disaster pulverizes
their livelihoods at a time when the Wall Street banks have already
robbed us blind with their frauds and ponzi schemes, destroying millions
of jobs.

And, this calamity is only the beginning. What stretches before us,
Michael Klare argues, is an age of extreme oil
, with riskier and
riskier projects that radically threaten the environment. Not to
mention that all burning of petroleum of fuel is degrading the
environment through global warming and climate change.

In the medium to long term, the fix for this mess is a transition to
hybrid and electric vehicles, and to electricity generated by wind and
solar. This transition was come more quickly (and it is very urgent) if
the federal and state governments would stop
subsidizing petroleum on a massive scale, making the public pay for the
environmental costs
of producing it while giving the petroleum
companies substantial tax breaks. Not to mention that the federal
superhighway program functions as a huge taxpayer subsidy to automobile
and truck traffic, when it would be far less expensive and more
ecologically sound to favor trains instead. I.e., we wuz robbed, and
continue to be robbed, in order to subsidize corporations that are
poisoning us.

In contrast to the fishermen's jobs being tragically lost in
Louisiana, the tax breaks and incentives for green energy in the federal
stimulus bill, if continued,
could produce 200,000 new jobs in the solar field alone
, and has
already produced 17,000 such jobs. The Illinois legislature just
produced a bill to jumpstart the move to solar in that state

Legislation and tax incentives are key to green energy as a start-up
industry facing hydrocarbon semi-monopolies that are already massively
subsidized by the government and by existing energy and transportation
infrastructure. We saw this phenomenon in Germany, which got ahead in
the solar game in large part because the Green Party was in coalition
with the SPD in the 1990s and shaped some crucial legislation favoring
solar and wind.

Some 28,000 solar jobs could be created in North
Carolina with the right legislation
. As Elizabeth Ouzts of
Environment North Carolina pointed out, "There are no solar spills."

And, exciting developments are taking place in Denmark and Germany
with regard to offshore wind
turbine power generation

If there is a silver lining in the scary and depressing Great BP Gulf
Catastrophe of 2010, it is that it may finally get state and federal
legislators off their duffs and legislating sane energy policy for the
health of the earth.

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