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Issue Home June 2, 2010 Site Home

Letters to the Editor Policy

Shoveling Sand Against The Tide

Frantic efforts are underway to cleanup the eruption of oil billowing into the Gulf. The attack on the tarry tide proceeds on five fronts: 1) The beachcombers, 2) Skimming the surface, 3) Don't ask, don't tell, 4) What you don't see won't hurt you, and 5) Corralling the crude.

But before we examine each category, it is necessary to know the volume of oil that confronts these initiatives.

How much oil has been the subject of contention. However, independent expert analysis has revealed that it is not 5,000 barrels a day, as steadfastly maintained by British Petroleum (BP), but 70,000 barrels. Other authorities put it at 95,000 barrels.

Using the lower figure, beginning April 22, the day the rig went down, to the end of May, this totals an astonishing 2.8 million barrels or 118 million gallons - a volume that equals 11 Exxon Valdez tankers. That's what the cleanup crews are up against. Let's see how each fares.

No. 1, The beachcombers. Some of the oil congealed into tar balls and washed ashore along the Gulf Coast. Volunteers collected truckloads of the sticky clumps. Their efforts are commendable, but their impact on the overall volume of oil is less than negligible.

No. 2, Skimming the surface. Petroleum is a mixture of compounds having various specific gravities. Some fractions sink, others float at various depths in the water column. The smallest fraction floats on the surface. Ships using a variety of techniques collect only a fraction of the fraction that floats and 90 percent of that is just seawater. Skimming the surface is, unfortunately, just that, skimming the surface of the contamination.

No. 3, Don't ask, don't tell. BP has garnered a fair amount of favorable press touting a successful method of recovering oil from the ruptured pipe. According to BP, that amount is 2,200 barrels a day (not independently verified).

However, when it comes to revealing what proportion of the total leak this represents, BP is tight lipped. But comparing BP's 2,200 barrels of captured oil to the 70,000 barrels surging daily from the broken pipe is proportionately the same as the difference between 97 cents and $1.

The mega corp has also stymied efforts to determine the amount of oil gushing from their out-of-control well. Scientists have repeatedly requested that monitoring instruments be positioned near the leaks to measure the flow rate of oil and gas. BP capped these requests as well. In other words, BP's policy is don't bother asking because we won't tell.

No. 4, What you don't know won't hurt you. Ostriches are popularly pictured sticking their heads in the sand to avoid danger. Of course the over-sized birds have sense enough not to do that, but people don't.

Dispersants are toxic chemicals used to breakup oil into extremely small globules that mix easily with water. They are used to disintegrate and sink surface oil eliminating the visual assault of an undulating, syrupy mass. But they do not eliminate the oil; dispersants merely redistribute it throughout the entire body of water.

As of May 23, more than 800,000 gallons of this biocide have been dumped into the Gulf, 60,000 more have been sprayed directly into the erupting oil, 800,000 gallons are on order, and there is the possibility that hundreds of thousands of gallons more will be used.

Much of the polluting oil now taints the entire water column. A giant cloud of emulsified water and oil measuring ten miles, by three miles, and 300 feet thick has been observed 3,000 feet beneath the sea. The volume of this mixture equals a colossal 254 billion barrels. The effect of this noxious cloud and others like it has made the situation worse - if that is possible.

No. 5, Corralling the crude. Containment booms are inflatable curtains that hang down about a foot into the water. Their purpose is to lasso the floating oil preventing its spread. More than 300 miles of booms have been deployed to protect fishing, wetlands, and beaches - but all in vane.

Booms are only 10 percent effective in choppy waters and Gulf waters are usually choppy; often the booms sections are torn apart. Much of it has become expensive beach litter and hurricane season starts June 8.

A man jumped off a ten-story building. Halfway down he had a change of heart and wondered what to do. Some problems are like that; they simply have no answer - the Gulf may be one of them.


Bob Scroggins

New Milford, PA

Letters To The Editor MUST BE SIGNED. They MUST INCLUDE a phone number for "daytime" contact. Letters MUST BE CONFIRMED VERBALLY with the author, before printing. Letters should be as concise as possible, to keep both Readers' and Editors' interest alike. Your opinions are important to us, but you must follow these guidelines to help assure their publishing.

Thank you, Susquehanna County Transcript

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