Recently, we celebrated July 4th, Independence Day, a very large and important celebration for all of America. But as most of us are watching the fireworks and spending time with family, over 42,000 response workers are fighting to contain and clean up the raging oil spill that is contaminating the Gulf of Mexico.
Between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels of oil are being pumped into the ocean every day and have been since April 20th. Even though there is an extensive clean-up operation in effect, only around 40% of the oil is being contained. Skimmers, which are boats that skim the surface separating oil from sea water, are working round the clock. It is a relatively slow process however as every gallon of sea water that they filter, only 10% is oil. 520 miles of Boom have also been laid in the sea, most of which is absorbent. This is laid to try and protect delicate shore lines and marshlands. They are not fail proof however as oil rich waves can crash over them is harsh weather.
In an attempt to break up the oil that they are unable to filter using the skimmers, over one million gallons of dispersant is being applied to the surface. Over half a million gallons have also been sprayed under water around the leaking oil. Although it has been cleared by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) there is still concern about the effect it could have on sea life as this amount of the chemical has never been used before in one single area.
At this time, there are talks of commissioning a huge skimmer called The Whale that is able to process over 21 million gallons of oiled water a day. This ship could make a significant difference to the clean-up operation, at least until the leak is stopped.
Clean up efforts were delayed this week due to Hurricane Alex. This hurricane hit shore on the Mexican coast but waves and poor weather reached as far as Florida forcing small skimmers to shore. Many booms were ineffective during these higher waves. This is hurricane season and at this time there is a low pressure development directly over the oil spill that has a 10% chance of turning into a tropical cyclone. A hurricane hitting this area of the gulf at this time is a high possibility and would be devastating to the clean up operation and coastlines.
Oil hasn’t reached the Texas coastline but has contaminated beaches and marshes in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi affecting wildlife immensely. Tar balls have also been found in Florida but no serious contamination has occurred at this time. Beaches are closed across the badly affected states due to very poor water quality and tar and oil in the sand.
Even though the Oil Spill is yet to reach the Texas coast, protesters are flocking outside the BP headquarters in Houston. Also, many Americans across Texas are boycotting BP Petrol stations opting to “pump gas” else-where.
The oil spill is a terrible tragedy but let us not forget that BP is taking responsibility for this spill. They are allowing claims to be made from lost earnings and are working on a bill to cover damage claims from the spill. And most importantly, let us not forget the 11 lives that were lost in the explosion that lead to this terrible tragedy.