Monday, 07 June 2010 15:08
Oil Spills - Valdez Alaska to Venice LouisianaWritten by grailking
May of 1990 found me on a landing craft providing support for the second year of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The spill occurred in March the previous year, on Good Friday, so massive resources in terms of people, money, and materials had already been thrown at the problem, but much was left to be done. I was working as a deckhand/cook on the vessel, so I didn't have to wear a raincoat and/or wipe off oily rock with rags, or even step onto the beach for that matter. Our boat would bring in bulldozers & backhoes and take out "super-sacks" filled with oily gravel to be transported to larger boats to be shipped out, supposedly to be turned into road base back in the states. It was apparent to anyone there that, in spite of armies of beach workers, and massive amounts of equipment and materials poured into the project, that Prince William Sound was never going to be quite the same again, if only for the line of black stain on the islands and rocks near the waterline. 20 years later and they're still finding oil a few inches below the surface on the gravel beaches and the herring populations haven't returned. I remember being struck by the majestic beauty of Alaska in general, and especially Prince William Sound. Immediately prior to heading to Alaska, I had been living in Lafayette Louisiana and working on supply boats servicing offshore rigs in the Gulf of Mexico from Port Fourchon in Louisiana to Port Aransas in Texas and I knew that oil is a pretty dirty business even when things are running right. For example, I was ordered to pump out the bilge at night while we were running back from the rig so the Coast Guard couldn't spot the slick till the next day,and thus not tie it to our boat. Several times there were minor spills of fuel at the docks. We always had a bottle of Dawn dish washing liquid on hand to spray over the slick and cause it to break up and sink to the bottom, out of sight. I must confess, Dawn is one product whose advertising is true - it does take grease and oil out of your way. I'm a Texan by birth and as a kid going to the beach, we would find tarballs washed up on the sand all the time and there always seemed to be drilling rigs out in the gulf within view. The air in communities surrounding Houston such as Baytown and Pasadena smelled odd with chemical odors coming from the refineries, but we just accepted these things as the price we paid for our robust economy and low unemployment. Many a young man went straight from high school to the "oil patch" and spent his whole working life there. I was a little surprised at what I thought was self-righteous indignation expressed by the Alaskans. Didn't they realize that they were complicit to some degree in the crime? If they worked for an oil company, cashed a permanent fund check, or merely put fuel in their cars, boats & snow machines, they still played a part in creating the demand that caused that tanker to be there in one of the most pristine, productive and beautiful environments on the world. Still, like the provocatively dressed rape victim, NOBODY deserves this degree of harm. In spite of the ugliness I had witnessed from the oil spill, I fell in love with Alaska and promised myself that I would return one day and breathe the clean air and drink in the natural beauty of that wondrous place. Now, almost 20 years later to the day, another place I love, South Louisiana, is being destroyed by an even larger oil spill. I lived in the vicinity of Lafayette, Louisiana (located between Lake Charles and Baton Rouge) for about 10 years, starting about the time I turned 18. I left Houston because it was being overrun with folks fleeing the rust belt and its unemployment. This had the effect of making Houston very crowded with people who were generally unhappy about everything about their new home - the heat, the humidity, the slow manner of speech, the low wages, the crowded freeways, the crime (crowded freeways because of them and rampant theft because they came with no jobs and not enough money, but people seldom see their part in ruining things), and on and on. When I fled the ranting Yankees to Louisiana, I vowed that I would not complain about Lafayette - I would either adapt and embrace it, or I would leave. The Cajun dialect takes some getting used to, but I enjoyed my time their very much and I still consider it my second home. Louisiana's natural beauty is entirely different from Alaska, as you might imagine. In Alaska, the main sensory impressions are cool and clean and wet and green. Louisiana might be described as warm and moist with a fertility and frenzy of life born from decay. If the Valdez cleanup was not a resounding success, expect the BP spill in the Gulf to be many times worse. You can't wipe or spray clean a marsh, as you might do with rocks or gravel. It consists of spongy layers of vegetation and silt in various stages of decomposition. Once the oil has hit the swamps and marshes, I'm afraid it won't be able to be removed by any mechanical, chemical, or combination of these means. I can see one ray of hope - oil eating organisms. In Alaska, they dropped some oil-eating bacteria on some of the oil, but the temperatures weren't conducive to the bacteria's reproduction. It could be that the warmer climate around the Gulf of Mexico will make it more feasible to use organic agents such as bacteria and fungi to break down the oil to its less harmful components. If ever there was a time for genetic engineering, this is it.Last modified on Friday, 11 June 2010 09:31
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