Today marks the one month anniversary of what will undoubtedly be known as the nation’s worst environmental disaster: the sinking and uncontrollable leak of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil well.
Remarkably, no one can yet offer a firm estimate for how much oil is gushing out of the broken well – the still ‘official’ estimate of 5,000 barrels a day has been called into question by Dr. Steve Wereley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University who says the amount may be 19 times larger at 100,000 barrels a day – equivalent to 4.2 million gallons a day.
The catastrophic environmental impacts are now beginning to be felt along the coastlines of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida’s panhandle as oil slicks were found today entering the sensitive coastal marsh lands that are prime breeding ground for birds, fish, and shellfish. But it is anyone’s guess as to just how severe the short-term and long-term economic impacts of this spill will be. Tourism officials in Florida worry that even the perception of oil on the beaches will deal a crippling blow to its $65 billion/year industry. Meanwhile 19% of the Gulf is now closed to fishing idling both sports fishing and commercial fishing operations, drastically impacting the economic livelihood of this region.
Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana is none too pleased about this and is seeking immediate remediation efforts.
Governor Jindal said, “We saw some heavy oil stranded in the wetlands. The oil is no longer just a projection or miles from our shore. The oil is here. It is on our shores and in our marsh… This spill fundamentally threatens Louisiana’s way of life. The oil is here and the time to act is now. We are asking the Corps to approve our dredging plan today without any further delay. We have already asked the Coast Guard to approve advancing the resources we will need to implement this plan, including barges and other dredging ships, so we can get to work quickly.”
The sad irony is that this disaster not only occurred on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, it also began in the same week that the United States finally approved permitting for the nation’s first offshore wind farm in New England – Cape Wind. If an offshore wind turbine had blown up and collapsed into the sea, we would likely be calling that area a marine fishing sanctuary now. BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster is an alarm bell that we absolutely must heed. We are killing our economy, our health and our ecosystems by continuing our heavy and risky reliance on fossil fuels.
There is no single solution to the challenge of moving away from our oil and coal addiction. We envision a future in which we harness many forms of renewable energy, energy efficiency, electric vehicles and alternative fuel sources as they are all part of the critical mix to diversify and clean up our energy production and use. If that future is realized sooner rather than later, then the only silver lining to this terrible disaster may be that it was the catalyst that pushed our country into a clean energy future.
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