Diluting the Spill’s Impact on the Gulf


For many years, a dictum for hazardous materials was that “the solution to pollution is dilution.” It was a handy rhyme, especially for those folks getting rich off releasing poisons into our environment, but now it seems that dictum is being expanded to conveniently estimate long-term impacts on the Gulf of Mexico.

That’s the core of the 52-page, two-weeks-in-the-making “scientific” study being used to prop up the BP claims process. It’s not hard to refute the claim that the Gulf will recover by 2012, especially because the same report and its creator acknowledge as much.

BP paid John W. Tunnell Jr., associate director at Texas A&M’s Harte Research Institute, to write the “study.” It was a “winter break” project – delivered to claims czar Kenneth Feinberg on Jan. 31.

Big Oil chose well, at least for the results sought. Mr. Tunnell helped develop the National Oil Spill Control School at Texas A&M and reportedly studied the impact of the 1979 Ixtoc oil spill off the Mexican coast. In other words, BP officials had to find somebody established in the region’s research community so other mainstream scientists wouldn’t immediately laugh them out of the room.

Reporter John DeSantis, writing for the Daily Comet out of Houma, quotes Mr. Tunnell as admitting that he “…didn’t do a study or analysis of the entire ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico…it was a general statement about…a broad area of the northern Gulf of Mexico. In any given locality, Barataria Bay where heavy oil went in, those are the ones that are going to take another four or six, eight or twelve years. It depends on the amount of oil and what conditions are and what cleanup, if any, is done.”

The report’s own summary admits that “…making an exact call for the time of recovery for any fishery group after a major spill is impossible.”

That’s how political “dilution” works. You admit that there’s no way in hell to apply an overly broad standard to individual locations or situations. Then you apply fairly arbitrary standards cooked up by a bought-and-paid-for academic over his two-week winter break.

Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up. And the Daily Comet has a really solid report from the front lines: http://www.dailycomet.com/article/20110211/ARTICLES/110219894/1212?p=all&tc=pgall

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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