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The Slick Goes On and Who is in Charge?


This article is the third in a series of four.

Eleven people missing and presumed dead. A 210,000
gallon-a-day oil leak now caught up in the Gulf of Mexico’s Loop Current. A
fishing ban issued that extends 46,000 square miles. On June 11, 2010, the
equivalent of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, 11,000,000 gallons, will have been
released into the Gulf of Mexico. One month after what will become this
country’s worst manmade disaster, the slick goes on and who’s in charge?

The finger pointing exercises started at the nation’s
Capitol during committee hearings and continues at every level of federal,
state, and local government. Meanwhile, clean up efforts resemble trying to get
a drink of water from a fire hose.

A large dome was lowered to the sea floor to capture the
oil. While that method has been successful in shallow waters, it had never been
attempted in 5,000 feet of water. Robot submarines attempted to close off the
flow of oil by activating a shutoff device at the well head known as a blowout
preventer. The robotic activity was not successful neither was the blowout
preventer. More attempts were made to replace the blowout preventer. Learning
from one failed attempt, positioning another dome over the well head but
injecting heated water or methanol to prevent crystals from forming as was the
case on the first dome.

Another deepwater rig is being moved toward the explosion
site to drill relief wells if needed but this process would take several months
and is not an easy process. A similar well blowout in Australia where a relief
well was drilled took 4 months to intersect the previous well and pump down
enough mud to shut off the flow.

Controlled burns to remove oil from open waters are
dependent upon weather. High winds, the threat of hail and tornadoes, and possible
hurricanes add a wild card dimension to cleanup efforts. Then one should throw
in ocean currents. The oil spill ribbons have been captured by the Loop
Current, a fast river of water that circulates from the Caribbean Sea into the
Gulf of Mexico and around the tip of Florida. The speed of this current which
can reach several miles per hour can carry part of the oil more swiftly than
the currents elsewhere in the Gulf. Oil in the loop could endanger the Florida
Keys, the west coast of Florida, Cuba, and the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. It
is possible that the oil could be carried through the Florida Straits and
perhaps northward to part of the Atlantic Seaboard.

Cleanup workers’ safety has not been addressed. One month
after the Valdez disaster, a team of public health experts identified the
potential health hazards of cleanup workers. Acute actions/reactions include
skin contact and inhalation of crude oil or its vapors that can cause
dizziness, nausea and skin rashes. Chronic actions/reactions include kidney and
nervous system damage, and some cancers (For more information click here).

The question keeps being asked, who is in charge, while
everyone’s patience is running thin along the coastal areas of the Gulf of
Mexico? Families who make a living from tourism and harvesting fish, shrimp,
and oysters from the coastal regions of the Gulf are already experiencing
financial hardships which can turn into financial ruin in a matter of another
month. For daily updates on the oil leak go to NOAA’s Office of Response and
Restoration.

 

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About Martha Madden

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