Dispersants are spreading oil through the water column sparing birds and beaches in the short term but killing turtles and marine life in the contaminated water. The area of contaminated water is much larger than the area covered by the visible oil slick. The oily water is now reaching the highly productive nursery for marine life on the west side of the Mississippi delta.
The environmental disaster is beginning to be visible on both sides of the Mississippi delta. The Breton wildlife refuge is awash with oil. Oiled birds have been spotted.
Orange-colored oil from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has washed up on the western side of North Island, the northenmost sliver of the Chandeleur and Breton Island chain.
"On a small section of the northernmost island, we could see a pretty significant buildup of oil," said Times-Picayune photographer John McCusker, after an aerial tour of the spill this morning. "It's not inundated, but oil has definitely reached the island."
St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro confirmed there was oil on Freemason Island, which is about a mile west from the middle of the crescent of the Chandeleur chain. He also said there are reports of birds covered with oil.
Shifting winds and currents are also bringing oily water in contact with the west side of the delta, an area with even more marine life and bayous than the east side.
Currents are taking oil into both sides of the Birdsfoot delta.
Fears that oil will get into the Loop Current and get carried into the Gulf Stream are receding as fears of major damage to the Mississippi delta region grow.
Videos have been made of oiled turtles struggling and dying in the bloody red water.
The view of the delta from the space station is beautiful. The oil still appears to be offshore on May 5, 2010. However, the view from space shows the oil sheen, not the larger area of dispersed oil.
The dispersant selected by BP is four times as toxic as oil. Marine life is being sacrificed to try to keep the oil from sticking to beaches and birds. Experts fear it is creating a toxic soup of oil and chemicals. (Warning Foxnews link)
"The concentration of detergents and other chemicals used to clean up sites contaminated by oil spills can cause environmental nightmares of their own," said Terry Hazen, a microbial ecologist in Berkeley Lab's Earth Sciences Division who has studied such notorious oil-spill sites as the Exxon Valdez spill into Alaska's Prince William Sound.....
Hazen cities the aftermath of the Amoco Cadiz and the Exxon Valdez disasters, two spills where chemical detergents led to ecological problems. In 1978, the oil tanker Amoco Cadiz split in two three miles off the coast of Normandy, releasing about 227,000 tons heavy crude oil that ultimately stained nearly 200 miles of coastline. The spill site was so large that only the areas of greatest economic impact were treated with detergents. Large areas in the more remote parts of the coast went untreated.
"The untreated coastal areas were fully recovered within five years of the Amoco Cadiz spill," says Hazen. "As for the treated areas, ecological studies show that 30 years later, those areas still have not recovered."
The view from a low flying plane shows the bloody details of the dispersed oil.
by John McCusker Nola.com
SYLVIA EARLE, oceanographer: A lot of people are focusing on the effects when the oil does eventually come ashore. But the real problem is for the ocean itself and the life that is out there.
And the dispersants, in a sense, compound that problem. They may help apparently get rid of the oil, but it really breaks it up into smaller pieces and adds additional toxins to the system. When you look at the water column, it isn't just water. It's filled with life, especially this time of the year, when a lot of the creatures are spawning, such as the little shrimp and other organisms that make the Gulf a living system.
I have been talking to some of my colleagues at the Harte Research Institute down in Corpus Christi. They focus on the Gulf of Mexico. And they're really concerned about, not just the spill, but also the use of the dispersants, and I think, perhaps most of all, the complacency that so many people seem to have about what is happening in the ocean itself.
The ocean, of course, is where the action is. It is why there is life in the sea, that there -- the fact that there -- there is that big body of blue water. The blue heart of the planet in the ocean itself.
On Sunday, the winds will begin increasing and shifting to the southeast. The latest run of the GFS model shows that this will be a week-long period of southeast winds, with wind speeds at times reaching 20 - 25 knots. These winds will threaten to bring oil to a large portion of the Louisiana coast, including regions of the central Louisiana coast west of the mouth of the Mississippi River. The Mississippi and Alabama coasts will also be at risk next week, but the risk to the Florida Panhandle is lower.
The good news is that the oil is likely to stay out of the Loop current through this summer unless there's a hurricane.
Long-range prospects for oil to enter the Loop Current
A major concern with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is the possibility for the oil to move southwards and become entrained into the mighty Gulf of Mexico Loop Current, which would rapidly transport the oil through the Florida Keys, impacting northwest Cuba, South Florida, the western Bahamas, and the U.S. East Coast all the way to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. However, there is no immediate danger of this happening. The latest forecast of Gulf currents from the NOAA HYCOM model (see also this alternative view of the HYCOM ocean current forecast) indicate that the currents will not be favorable for pulling any oil southwards into the Loop Current over the next five days. Oil will have to travel approximately 100 miles to the south-southeast to get entrained into the Loop Current, and we probably would need a 2+ day period of strong winds out of the north for this to happen. The long-range GFS model indicates that the earliest this might happen is 10+ days from now. As summer gets closer, the incidence of cold fronts making it far enough south to bring an extended period of offshore northerly winds to the Gulf of Mexico decreases. I think there is a 40% chance that the next cold front capable of pushing oil into the Loop Current will arrive by the end of June. However, I think it is more likely that the next such front will not arrive until October, when fall comes.
That makes a tropical storm or hurricane as perhaps the most likely weather event to push oil into the Loop Current over the next few months.
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The high risks of deep offshore drilling were identified in 2002 in a technical report published by the Society of Petroleum Engineers. However, because of the laissez fare attitude of the Cheney-Bush administration, nothing was done by the government to address the potential severe consequences of blow outs of deep wells.
As the development of oil and gas moves into deeper waters, new environmental issues and challenges present themselves to oil companies. The environmental issues arise for several different reasons including:
• Technologies used in shallow waters are no longer adequate for water depths over 1000 meters. As a result, the environmental consequences of some of the newer deepwater technologies are not well understood. This requires the standard impact assessments for drilling, subsea production systems and FPSOs (Floating Production, Storage, and Offloading) vessels to be revisited.
• The environmental setting in deep water is very different than in shallow water. The deep ocean is poorly understood in terms of physical properties and their importance. Also, hydrocarbon seeps and thermal vents provide habitat for newly discovered or poorly understood benthic organisms. Pelagic organisms, similar to those found in shallow waters, may have adaptive modifications for deeper waters. Therefore, impacts to the environment need to be considered relative to these organisms.
• Water depth and distance from the coast present challenges for discharge management and emergency response. The routine discharges associated with oil operations can be different in the deepwater environment in terms of quantities and mixing. Unintended releases, such as oil spills, can provide new challenges for emergency response.
But an AP review of government and BP documents found that the company had not filed a specific comprehensive blowout plan for the rig that exploded April 20, leaving 11 workers dead and spewing an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil a day.
Instead, a site-specific exploration plan filed by BP in February 2009 stated that it was "not required" to file "a scenario for a potential blowout" of the Deepwater well.
Now we face the consequences of the failure of the Republican philosophy of lax regulation.