How much oil can we dump atop the Gulf ecosystem before it simply collapses? At what point does the northern quadrant of the Gulf of Mexico – once the source of 40 percent of all seafood caught in the continental United States – become, for all practical purposes, a dead zone? Well, we may be faced with that tragic outcome much sooner than many of us would care to believe.
The oil industry’s abuse of the Gulf over the last 25 years has been relentless, and there’s no end in sight. In fact, as the Obama Administration makes short-sighted policy decisions toward so-called “energy independence,” the situation in the Gulf is only going to get worse.
The latest case in point: Reports are circulating this morning that a pipeline rupture late last week released more than 2,000 gallons of crude into the Gulf near the once-thriving fishing community of Grand Isle in Barataria Bay – one of the areas hardest hit by the BP spill of 2010. For months on end before this most recent incident, commercial fishermen had already been reporting that oyster and shrimp catches in the area were off by as much as 90 percent. And now there’s more oil in the water.
Here’s the initial incident report from SkyTruth (see link to satellite map at bottom):
At 1224 CST on 17MAR, USCG Sector New Orleans contact NOAA SSC about a thick black sheen (1 mi by 1 mi) discovered by USCG personnel working in the vicinity. A jack-up rig dropped their spuds onto a pipeline earlier this morning causing an uncontrolled release of crude oil. The release has been for at least 3 hours and continues unsecured. Trajectory analysis has been requested.
The release has since been stopped. The responsible party is Power Marine, a private enterprise out of Harvey, Louisiana. The release occurred at Latitude: 29.278889, Longitude: -89.953889.
Tragically, the Gulf ecosystem is falling victim to “death by a thousand cuts.” That is, the damage is inflicted relatively slowly in many – oftentimes unnoticed – increments (with the obvious exception of the 2010 disaster). The oil industry infrastructure in the Gulf provides countless opportunities for oil spills, pipeline leaks, well blowouts and a range of other oil-releasing incidents. Consider this from Texas A&M’s Harte Research Institute:
There are over 4,500 oil and gas platforms and structures dotting the waters of the Gulf and connecting them together is an unimaginable maze of pipelines, funneling their output into the heart of the USA. Over 47% of the refining capacity, 52% of oil production and 54% of the natural gas produced in the USA comes from here.
That massive, ever-growing infrastructure is slamming head on into a fragile Gulf ecosystem with increasing frequency. The impacts – often overlooked by the general public and our elected officials in Washington – are always devastating to the Gulf’s marine life and those coastal residents who make their living working the waters. More from the Harte Research Institute:
Because 95% of all commercially and recreationally important finfish and shellfish depend on habitat like this for some part of their life cycle, it is easy to understand why the Gulf is as productive as it is. Much of this habitat surrounds the estuaries that ring the Gulf like a string of pearls, and they are pearls of great value. While these estuaries make up only 24% of all USA estuaries by area, they are amazingly productive. The Gulf accounts for 85% of all shrimp harvest, 60% of all oysters and over 50% of recreational fishing pressure in the USA. At over 1.3 billion pounds of annual seafood production the Gulf produces more finfish, shrimp and shellfish than the south and mid-Atlantic, Chesapeake and New England, combined.
The Gulf’s legendary seafood production has stalled under the weight of a torrent of oil. A growing number of independent researchers believe the BP spill has already caused the Gulf’s fisheries to collapse. And the ecosystem continues to sustain more damage with each passing day. For example, the Macondo reservoir is still releasing significant amounts of oil through cracks and fissures in the seafloor around the plugged well. And a Taylor Energy offshore rig damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 has been spewing oil into the Gulf everyday for 7 years. Consider this from my Feb. 3 post:
When Hurricane Ivan blew across the Gulf of Mexico in 2004, it severely damaged an offshore platform and 28 associated oil wells owned by Taylor Energy Company. The site has been leaking oil ever since, without any discernible spill response from Taylor or the U.S. Coast Guard. Environmental groups monitoring the site – at the surface and via satellite – estimate that “hundreds of gallons have leaked from the site each day for the last 7 years.” Some experts put the total release at well over a million gallons, with no sign of stopping and no effort on the part of the responsible party to minimize the ongoing environmental damage.
There’s no end to the oil, but don’t take my word for it. The Gulf Oil Spill Tracker, brought to us by SkyTruth, shows hundreds of “oil incidents” occurring in real time across the Gulf of Mexico (see link below). It’s a tremendously important resource but a truly depressing one.
The Gulf ecosystem is stressed to the point of breaking – and we may already be beyond the point of no return.
See the pipeline rupture incident report here: http://alerts.skytruth.org/report/04ef5031-a298-392f-8ecf-c001149476af#c=gost
Read my March 7 post on the plight of Gulf fisheries: http://www.stuarthsmith.com/everything-is-dead-gulf-fisheries-collapse-nearly-two-years-after-bp-oil-spill
See how much oil is being released into the Gulf here: http://oilspill.skytruth.org/reports/?c=19
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