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Mississippi flood waters could create the largest ever dead zone in the Gulf. Taxpayers hit with clean up costs as BP takes tax break. Marine mammal researcher wins prestigious award.

You are in the current Gulf Watchers BP Catastrophe - AUV #519. ROV #518 is here.

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Gulf Watchers Diary Schedule
Tuesday  - morning
Thursday - morning
Friday Block Party - evening
Sunday - morning

Part one of the digest of diaries is here and part two is here.

Please be kind to kossacks with bandwidth issues. Please do not post images or videos. Again, many thanks for this.

According to researchers at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium,
the flood waters flowing from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers could produce the largest ever dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. A dead zone, an area of oxygen depleted water, forms annually off of Louisiana's coast.Each year LUCOM sends out a research cruise to measure it. The largest recorded was in 2002 and measured 8,484 square miles.
Last year's was 7,722 square miles, or the size of the state of Massachusetts.
The larger the dead zone the bigger the setback for fishermen trying to recover from last year's oil spill.
A huge dead zone will be another setback for fishermen trawling the Gulf in hopes of making up for last year’s spring fishing season, which was shut down in much of the state by the BP oil spill, said Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium researcher Nancy Rabalais, Marine organisms, especially bottom-feeders like crabs and shrimp, must flee the oxygen starved waters or die, creating large areas of “dead” fishing that lend the annual phenomenon its name.
While scientists have been reluctant to throw out numbers because they’re “so huge,” Rabalais said this year’s dead zone could be five to 10 percent bigger than the largest ever recorded. That was in 2002, measuring 8,484 square miles.
The dead zone, a phenomenon known as hypoxia, is fueled mostly by nitrogen and phosphorus found in agricultural runoff such as fertilizer that flows down the Mississippi River. The extra nutrients, coupled with the warm summer sun, trigger an explosion of algae growth that soon sinks, decomposes and consumes most of the life-giving oxygen supply in the water.

With record levels of river water coming downstream into the Gulf, heavier loads of nitrogen and phosphorus will be coming with it, said Matt Rota, water resources director with the Gulf Restoration Network, a New Orleans-based environmental nonprofit that focuses of Gulf of Mexico issues.

Rabalais said nutrients exploding out of spillways and the Atchafalaya River could cause dead zone effects stretching from east of the Mississippi River and west of the Atchafalaya.

The large dead zone will further stress marine life, especially bottom feeders that have already been stressed by the effects of the oil and dispersants.

Agricultural runoff may not be the only threat to the Gulf.

The rising water is still expected to threaten a variety of oil and gas production facilities within the Atchafalaya Basin, according to state and federal officials. There are 589 producing oil and gas wells within areas that will be inundated with the opening of the Morganza Floodway, according to the state Department of Natural Resources, representing 19,300 barrels of oil a day and 252.6 million cubic feet of gas.
The oil and gas wells and other manufacturing facilities have been directed by both the state Department of Environmental Quality and the Louisiana Oil Spill Control Office to be prepared for the floodwaters and to secure loose equipment.

In addition to the wells, there are believed to be 97 storage tanks, 10 pipelines and 86 bulk liquid petroleum transportation facilities, as well as a number of retail, light manufacturing and other commercial sites in the path of high water.

The US Geological Survey's National Stream Quality Network will be sampling and testing the water for several months. They will be testing for nutrients, pesticides, suspended sediment, turbidity, alkalinity, and oil and grease. They will post their data at

At last week's Senate hearing on tax breaks for oil companies  BP revealed that it is moving to cut its tax bill by 11.8 billion by writing off the costs of the oil spill as the cost of doing business. In short, the clean up costs will be paid, the taxpayer.
All this unfolded at a testy hearing last Thursday of the Senate Finance Committee, where oil executives defended their lucrative profits and attempted to explain away rising gas prices.

Sen. Nelson (D-Fla) began a line of questioning with BP America chairman and president Lamar McKay on whether the CEO thought it was justifiable that BP was attempting to take a tax write-off for costs associated with the spill.

In BP’s fourth quarter 2010 SEC filing. the company indicated it planned to generate $11.8 billion in tax savings as a result of the oil spill.

“Surely, the Gulf oil spill was the result of wrongdoing, and yet you want to claim that as a tax credit," Sen. Nelson said at the hearing. BP “may be entitled to this under the law, but that doesn't make it right."

But McKay said the company was not treating the expense deductions as a tax credit, and said the write-offs were justified as "standard business expenses."
Without the move, BP’s bottom line would have been deep in the red. BP says it has already taken a $40.9 billion total pre-tax charge to its income in 2010.

Senator Nelson has introduced a bill that would prohibit deductions for legal, clean up and other costs associated with oil spills in US territorial waters.

A marine toxicologist from Maine is recognised for her work in the Gulf of Mexico Susan Shaw normally works in a lab at the Marine Environmental Research Institute in Blue Hill, Maine. As an environmental toxicologist, she is renowned for studying the buildup of industrial chemicals in seals and other marine mammals. During the past year, however, she has been part of a team of federally funded scientists studying the long term impact of oil and the chemicals used to disperse it in the Gulf of Mexico.
This month, Shaw will receive the Gold Medal award from the Society of Women Geographers. There have been only 18 other recipients of the society's most prestigious award in its 85-year history, including aviator Amelia Earhart, primatologist Jane Goodall, anthropologist Margaret Mead and archaeologist Mary Leakey.

Also this month, at its annual Rachel Carson awards ceremony, the National Audubon Society will name Shaw "Woman of the Gulf" for her work at the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Susan Shaw grew up far from Maine and began her career as a filmmaker. Didn't get her doctorate until the age of 55. Read the article to find out how the twists and turns of life led to her diving in the Gulf. Maybe its never to late to start over.

Further reading for those interested....
An interview with Nigerian author Helon Habila about his book, Oil On Water, a novel about the human toll of having the oil companies do business in his country.

Oceans of tears fall. The heartbreaking story of one young widow whose husband died on the Deepwater Horizon. She talks about her two young daughters who still cry for Daddy and an empty grave, as his remains were never found.

A little comedic relief. Shrimper Dean Blanchard created quite a stir when he proposed a demonstration against BP this past weekend at Grand Isle.
Tales of flag burning and gun toting.

PLEASE visit Pam LaPier's diary to find out how you can help the Gulf now and in the future. We don't have to be idle! And thanks to Crashing Vor and Pam LaPier for working on this!

Previous Gulf Watcher diaries:

5-15-11 12:45 PM Gulf Watchers Sunday - More Drilling and Fewer Oysters - BP Catastrophe AUV #518 Lorinda Pike
5-13-11 06:25 PM GW Friday Block Party--House Edition (??) Phil S 33
5-11-11 06:00 AM Gulf Watchers Wednesday - Gulf rig worker aid funds wanting for applicants - BP Catastrophe AUV peraspera
The last Mothership has links to reference material.

Previous motherships and ROV's from this extensive live blog effort may be found here.

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