Sunday, June 20, 2010

So... where does that leave us with regards to the oil spill?

3) What's going to happen and how can we help?

The only thing I can say for certain, people won't forget anytime soon.
If you've been reading my last posts about the BP oil spill, first off: thanks!  They're pretty lengthy, but I think I've managed to get a lot of information in them.  Secondly, I don't think anyone knows what's going on or what's going to happen.  I have some predictions, as well as a run through of some historically huge oil spill disasters, and some thoughts about what we can do to help.

As always, your feedback is much appreciated.

What's going to happen?

First, we need to address what's already happened.
As any history buff (not that I would really know) knows, the best way to predict the future or figure out the present, is to look to the past.

We know that the BP oil spill is unquestionably the biggest, worst, man-made oil spill (due to drilling) in the history of the world.  This being said, I'm going to run down past oil spills by drilling and those results.

[NOTE: in my research from here and here, I've found instances of boats crashing each other and spilling massive amounts of oil, such as in 1991 when Iraqi forces deliberately opened oil tankers to slow American forces, spilling out 520 MILLION GALLONS into the ocean.  

Oil spills commonly happen due to tankers (oil transporters) crashing into each other/other boats, times of war (like above), or other huge ships (which carry tons of oil for fuel) crashing.

To give some perspective, Exxon-Valdez spilled out 10 million gallons.  I am strictly counting spills due to oil drilling.]

I am not including the nation's second most infamous oil spill, Exxon-Valdez.  This is because it was caused by an oil tanker crashing instead of an oil well leaking.

  1. UNNAMED, RECENT OIL SPILL - 1 million gallons as of now but no one is keeping measurement - Nigeria Delta - May 30 2010
    Even as
    recently as two weeks after the BP oil spill, there's been an oil spill that could "dwarf" the Gulf oil spill.  A ruptured ExxonMobil pipe in Akwa Ibom has spilled over 1 million gallons into the Niger Delta.  Unfortunately, as this article discusses, multinational organizations often take advantage of under-developed nations, who are essentially defenseless against these corporations.  Spills like this go unreported and happen almost daily all over Africa.

    Nigeria has the best-quality oil in the world, yet pipelines here are corroded due to misuse and carelessness.  Some of these pipes are rusted and 40 years old.  The communities are slowly being poisoned by these oil fields and no one is reporting it.
  2. IXTOC 1 OIL SPILL - 140 million gallons - Mexico - June 3 1979 to March 23 1980
    Similar to the BP spill, an accident in an oil well caused an explosion which destroyed the well.  The well stayed open and spilled 30,000 gallons a day into the ocean for a year.  New numbers suggest that BP may be spilling 60,000 gallons of oil a day into the ocean.  Pemex, a state-owned Mexican petroleum company, was drilling the oil well at the time.  Pemex is currently 42nd on the list of Fortune 500 companies.  It makes a ton of money, but seems to be poorly managed by the Mexican government.  It is also limited by declining oil reserves.  (
    Author's note: hm...)
  3. KOLVA RIVER OIL SPILL - 84 million gallons - Russia - September 8 1994
    A ruptured pipeline caused this spill in Russia, then the dike containing the oil collapsed.  It lasted 8 months before it was noticed and repaired.
  4. NOWRUZ OIL FIELD SPILL - 80 million gallons - Persian Gulf - February 10 to September 18 1983
    A tanker collided with a drilling platform, which collapsed and leaked oil into the Persian Gulf. Stopping this disaster and cleaning up after it was further delayed by the Iran-Iraq War.
For a frame of reference, no one knows for sure how much oil has spilled into the Gulf.  It is estimated to be 76.5 million gallons so far.

I know I promised an analysis of results... but I have to say these have been hard to find.  It doesn't seem like anyone even cares to keep an analysis on these.  To further drive the point, these oil spills are in developing countries - Nigeria, Mexico in the late 70s, Russia (still a BRIC nation), and the Middle East.

The little information I've found on the aftermath of these is fuzzy.  There were recurring spills at the Nowruz oil field after the initial spill for a few years afterward.  Kolva River doesn't seem to be a source of oil any longer.  And I don't believe that there have been follow up studies in the Mexican site. Perhaps even more sadly, I don't think anything will be done in Nigeria, the country on this short list that I think has suffered the most.

What I think will happen to BP.
BP is a huge corporation.  As of fiscal year 2009, BP made $239 billion in sales, with $16.8 billion in profit and $8.3 billion in cash (and cash equivalents) at the end of the year.  (Note: this profit to sales ratio is pretty standard for oil companies, which make a lot of money in sales BUT incur enormous costs to regulation, infrastructure, taxes, etc.)

They've just announced a plan to set aside $20 billion for victims.  Estimates made by analysts believe that the cost of the actual clean up will be $63 billion.  It's hard to say how long it'll take for BP to actually clean up, because no one really knows how much (effort, money, time) it'll take - and no one knows if BP actually WILL clean up everything (or even if they can).  

We can look to Exxon for this - even 20 years later, they haven't really finished their clean up effort and in fact have just given up.  Yet they are still the world's largest public (though this distinction is unlikely to matter since I find it hard to imagine a private company larger than Exxon) company when measured by market value.  Obviously, Exxon-Valdez was just another unfortunate blip in the spotted history of Exxon.

I believe that BP is going to go the same way.  (In fact, BP is 5th on this list.)  The reason I've emphasized all these financial numbers is because the companies that have the most money are the ones that better succeed and can get out of binds like this.  More money equals more power and that doesn't matter if you're US or UK based.  Plus, anyone who has a shot of solving this issue is going to have to have buckets and buckets of capital.

This being said, I think that BP has the resources available to clean up this mess.  I believe they'll survive this, but I'm not sure if they'll stick to their word.

What will happen to the Gulf?
Even after a cleanup, oil still remains.

From Exxon-Valdez, one of the world's most cleaned-up oil spills,

  • 50% biodegraded in the beach or water
  • 20% evaporated
  • 14% was recovered and/or disposed
  • 13% remained lodged in "sediments"
  • 2% remained on shores
  • less than 1% remained in the sea
Though this looks great (only 1% in the sea!  only 2% remained on shores!), crude oil biodegrades into paraffins, acyclic isoprenoids, kerogen, and tons of VOCs (volatile organic compounds).  What is all this chemistry mumbo-jumbo?  Waste and other toxics.

Not to mention the devastation to wildlife and the natural habitat as well as the decline of the fishing industry.  The Exxon-Valdez oil spill still plagues the Alaskan shoreline today, much longer than scientists expected.  News reports today have been discussing the declining value of real estate in the area, further depressing an already economically depressed part of the country.

In short, toxins in the Gulf for decades to come, total environmental devastation, the murder of potentially millions of animals (including possibly the first whale death), further economic damage to the residents of the Gulf region, and the end of many Gulf industries.

BP hopes that we'll forget about it.  As with most businesses, they're all about their image.  Even after an incident in 2005, the BP America public relations chief said, "looks like injuries and loss of life are heavy.  Expect a lot of follow up coverage tomorrow.  Then I believe it'll essentially go away."

I know that this section has been particularly depressing, but it's important to note the seriousness and gravity of this situation, which leads me to my last point...

How can we help?
Canada has sent a huge help force to help clean the Gulf.

If you're in the area:

  1. REPORT sightings of breaks to the boom (barrier) by calling 1-866-448-5816.  This number goes to the Deepwater Horizon Response Unified Command.  
  2. REPORT injured or oiled wildlife by calling 1-866-557-1401.  DO NOT attempt to help injured or oiled wildlife on your own.
  3. VOLUNTEER with
    - National Wildlife Federation which is studying the effects of the Gulf spill on wildlife.  There is information
    - Seabird Sanctuary ( which cleans birds affected by the spill.  Email or call 727-392-4291
    - Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisana is looking for a variety of volunteers.  Click
    here to register.
    - Tri-State Bird and Rescue is looking for volunteers to help clean animals
    - National Audubon Society is recruiting volunteers for a variety of tasks.  Click
    - BP, which is training volunteers daily at the Mobile Civic Center, address/location
    here, which includes beach cleanup, wildlife rehab, and other courses.  Register by calling 1-866-647-2338
    - keeps more up-to-date information for volunteers.
    - Still not sure?  The Deepwater Horizon Response Volunteer Request Line has been set up for people looking to volunteer or donate use of their equipment.  Call here 1-866-448-5816


  1. SEND YOUR IDEAS by going here or by calling 281-366-5511
  2. DONATE YOUR HAIR to Matter of Trust - scroll down to "one time hair donors" for infomation.  Why hair?  Hair collects oil, which Matter of Trust is using to turn into boom.  You can also donate fur.
    - National Wildlife Federation, text "WILDLIFE" to 20222 to donate $10 or click
    - Mobile Baykeeper, which is aiming to protect the Mobile Bay (Alabama) Watershed,
    - Seabird Sanctuary, which works on cleaning the birds affected by the spill,
    - Greater New Orleans Foundation, which is working on helping Louisiana's coastlines,
    - Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisana which is working on the cleanup effort,
    -Tri-State Bird and Rescue which works on cleaning up birds,

Long term:

  1. REDUCE your oil/petroleum use.  Here are some suggestions: walk instead of driving, buy a hybrid or a bike or a SmartTrip, use less energy... possibilities are endless - and none require a total lifestyle makeover!  The US consumes the most oil in the world - by FAR - at 19.5 million barrels of oil a day.  The country that consumes the 2nd most oil in the world, as you may have guessed, is China.  They consume, however, less than half as much as we do, at 7.8 million barrels of oil a day.  They have 1.3 billion people, compared to our 0.3 billion.  Each US citizen uses 23 barrels of oil a year, compared to each Chinese citizen, who uses 2 barrels of oil a year.  So for all those who complain about how much oil China uses really needs to look at the US first.
  2. CONTACT YOUR SENATORS AND REPRESENTATIVE and ask them for a comprehensive energy plan.  Ask them what they're doing to help secure our nation's energy future.  Contact your Congress by looking up their info here.  You can call, email, or write snail mail to them - and there's even a way to tweet your representative, even if he/she's not on Twitter.
  3. BUY LOCAL FOOD.  It's estimated that the average American meal travels 1500 miles from farm to processor to storage to market.  Buying local food can help decrease this mileage - and oil use - immensely.  There are tons of local farmer's markets, starting with the Glover Park farmer's market, which is open on Saturdays at Wisconsin and 34th (across from Safeway).
  4. GET INVOLVED.  There are tons of ways to get involved, whether it's with local non-profits (a list of which are here) or with national non-profits like Greenpeace.

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