Oil has been gushing from the sea floor into the Gulf of Mexico for seventy-five days now. That’s 75 days too long.
Last time I wrote about the spill, tarballs had just started washing ashore on Florida’s panhandle. Since then, the oil slick has spread farther east and Hurricane Alex, which made landfall on the Texas-Mexico border, has hampered clean-up efforts. President Barack Obama has addressed the nation and BP CEO Tony Hayward has gone yachting.
So what has changed in the Gulf? From the looks of it, not too much. The BP Gulf Oil Spill is now the largest accidental oil spill in history. According to a recent ABC World News Tonight broadcast, the oil slicking across the water’s surface now covers an area roughly the size of Tennessee. Tennessee!
The media isn’t covering the spill with the same sense of urgency it was a couple weeks ago. Maybe the story’s gotten a bit stale for reporters and audiences alike. (Same goes for the Haiti earthquake- do you think Port Au Prince has been rebuilt?) It doesn’t help that there’s been no real signs of progress, and most citizens can’t do much to help. To make matters worse, there have been reports that the media has been restricted access to the site of the spill.
This by no means makes the Gulf oil spill any less important. We need to keep in mind what is happening in the Gulf. There is so much suffering. Consider this a reminder:
Even though I haven’t been directly impacted by the spill, I still think it’s important for us to stay aware of the situation. Right now is a good time to reflect, not just because it’s another unfortunate milestone for the spill, but because it’s the Fourth of July weekend. The holiday is usually a time for touristy Gulf towns to flourish, but now many are deserted, even if the oil hasn’t hit some of their shores yet.
The relief well meant to stop the leak won’t be completed until mid-August, so hopefully then the real progress begins. In the meanwhile, I hope the oil spill will at least show Americans how dangerous our oil addiction is. Could this be the beginning of real change in our mindsets? If it is, at least something good can came out of this disaster.
A few years back, the History Channel aired a mini-series called 10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America, featuring events as diverse as the McKinley assassination and the first time Elvis Presley appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. If someone was to re-do that series now, they would almost certainly add April 20, 2010 to the list.
Today marks a milestone no one wanted to reach- fifty days since the start of the BP Gulf Oil Spill. Late on the night of April 20, the Deepwater Horizon, an offshore oil rig, exploded, causing a fire. Although most of the workers on the rig were successfully evacuated, 17 were injured and 11 missing and presumed dead. Two days later, on Earth Day, the rig finally sank and an oil slick appeared on the water’s surface.
The oil leak wasn’t officially confirmed until that Saturday, the 24th. Four days later, the U.S. Coast Guard estimated that each day 210,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) of oil were seeping into the Gulf of Mexico. On May 4, just two weeks after the initial explosion, oil began reaching Louisiana’s barrier islands. According to government estimates released on May 27, between 18.6-29.5 million gallons had leaked into the Gulf. The BP oil spill is now the largest in U.S. history. (By comparison, 11 millions gallons of leaked during 1989’s Exxon Valdez oil spill.)
Not even a week later, on June 1, the oil hit Mississippi and Alabama. Just this past Friday, tarballs washed ashore in Pensacola,a city on Florida’s panhandle. It was a day millions of Floridians, myself included, were dreading.
I won’t go too much into the politics of this whole mess. BP and the U.S. government have both been ineffective these last few weeks and need to take ownership. BP’s efforts to cap the leak- the leak that’s 5,000 feet underwater- have been moderate successes at best, futile at worst. To say the oil giant is facing a PR nightmare is an understatement; to counter, BP is spending millions on advertisinginstead of clean-up.
More images from the Gulf.
We are now fifty days into the worst environmental disaster in the country’s history. And ironically enough, it’s World Oceans Day.
The more I read and see about this story, the more heartbreaking it gets. It’s the animals- the birds covered in sludge, the dolphins dying. It’s the priceless wetlands- the unique and fragile ecosystems of the Gulf. It’s the people- the countless families who practically lost their livelihoods the moment the leak began. For now, we can only see the oil at the surface, just like we can only see the surface of the damage that has been caused.
The oil spill couldn’t have come at worse time. It happened in the middle of spring, a time of growth and renewal for nature. Spring is absolutely critical- it will take years for the animals and environments of the Gulf to recover. Hurricane season is now upon us. God forbid a storm sweeps through the Gulf and lets the oil rain down inland. Along with hurricane season comes summer, a crucial time for tourism in the South. In so many places along the Gulf, such as Grand Isleand Florida especially, tourism dollars make the economy go around.
Last summer, I made two trips to Florida’s Gulf Coast. Now more than ever, I am incredibly grateful to have seen first-hand the beauty of Marco Island and Naples. (*These are my personal photos.)
I don’t know what the future holds for the Gulf. I hope the oil never has to reach South Florida, or any more beaches for that matter. But I don’t have any control over it- that power lies in BP and the government to contain the spill and clean up the mess. Everyday citizens have been doing what they can to help since Day 1. Unfortunately, so much damage has already been done that it will take years to know the full extent. I just have to hope that future generations can appreciate the environment before they risk losing it.