A few of you may not remember 1989 very well, but I do. America was experiencing the first few months of the George Bush presidency — not the son but the father, George H.W. Bush. The B-52s and “Love Shack” were at the top of the music charts. But the spring’s big news story was the crash of the giant oil tanker the Exxon Valdez, which ran aground under the command of its intoxicated captain, spilled more crude oil than any accident up to that time, and befouled some of the most splendid miles of natural coastline in North America.
So much has happened since then, but one thing has not changed. Oil from that accident is still in the water, nearly a quarter-century later. Here is the somewhat shocking finding:
Oil from one of the most devastating environmental disasters in U.S. history still clings to boulder-strewn beaches in the Gulf of Alaska—and could stick around for decades. Researchers presented evidence of a lingering, foamy, mousse-like emulsion this week at the Ocean Sciences meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Chemical analyses find that this 25-year-old oil is from the Exxon Valdez spill, when the tanker ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound (map) in 1989. And to the surprise of the scientists, the oil still has most of the same chemical compounds as oil sampled 11 days after the initial spill. (See “Exxon Valdez Anniversary: 20 Years Later, Oil Remains.”)
The oil’s presence in areas that were cleaned right after the spill 25 years ago points to the need to monitor certain environments long after the visible effects disappear, the researchers say.
The researchers also reported:
“When oil forms into the foam, the outside is weathering, but the inside isn’t,” Irvine explains. It’s like mayonnaise left out on the counter. The surface will crust over, but the inside of the clump still looks like mayonnaise, she explains.
This finding is significant — and disturbing — in and of itself. It’s certainly a reminder why offshore drilling in extreme climates of the Arctic — as briefly attempted by Shell Oil in 2012 — is a terrible idea. But it’s also important to note in another context. Here in the Gulf, BP has gone to great lengths in recent months to evade taking responsibility for its much larger spill — and its even more significant negligence — in the Deepwater Horizon fiasco that happened less than four years ago. Here’s a good summary of what the massively profitable oil giant is up to:
The London-based oil giant is mired in litigation in federal courts in New Orleans. No longer apologetic, BP has stiffened its spine. It has filed new motions and countersuits, taken out a slew of full-page ads in newspapers (including The Washington Post) and enlisted the British ambassador to express concerns to the Obama administration over how aggrieved the company feels.
Yesterday, the Gulf received some good news in that a federal appeals court shut down BP’s efforts to undo its multi-billion-dollar agreement for economic and medical damages. But there are also grim reminders in the headlines that the environmental consequences of BP’s actions will be plaguing the region for years to come. This just happened the other day:
A submerged oil mat was found on Langdon Beach near Fort Pickens on Thursday morning, officials from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said.
Members of the DEP waded waist-deep into the winter water and used nets to scoop up weathered oil and sand. Scoop by scoop, they passed the sticky black substance up a chain of people to the beach.
In two days, the multiagency cleanup team removed about 1,360 pounds of clumped oil, sand and water from the oil mat, the DEP said.
As regular readers of this site know, this was hardly an isolated event — Gulf residents and tourists spot tar balls or these larger tar mats on the beaches here all the time. If the scientific research from Alaska is any guide, this most unfortunate byproduct of the Deepwater Horizon disaster will be affecting us for years to come.
But there’s one fate of that 1989 Exxon spill that is a must to avoid: Some 8,000 Alaska residents reportedly died before they received their just settlement from the oil giant. In the Gulf, it’s critical to keep the pressure on BP, to make sure that they can’t run away from its legal responsibility for the massive — and ongoing — damage that it’s done.
Check out the report on ongoing oil pollution from the 1989 Alaska spill from National Geographic: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/03/140301-exxon-valdez-oil-spill-alaska-beaches-ocean-science/
Read the Washington Post on how BP is backtracking from its obligation to pay for Gulf recovery: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/in-new-orleans-courts-the-legal-gusher-bp-cannot-contain/2014/02/28/1bc3209c-8865-11e3-833c-33098f9e5267_story.html
Read from the New York Times about the federal appeals court upholding the BP settlement: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/04/business/energy-environment/court-says-bps-spill-agreement-is-binding.html?_r=0
Here’s news coverage of the latest tar mat of BP oil to wash ashore on Florida’s beaches: http://www.pnj.com/article/20140301/NEWS10/303010015/Oil-appears-on-Pensacola-Beach-years-after-BP-Gulf-spill?nclick_check=1
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