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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Bright Side Wednesday delayed: Suddenly all oil spills are really easy to clean up

What happens to a Bright Side Wednesday deferred? In order of occurrence, it:
     1. Dries up like a raisin in the sun
     2. Festers like a sore and then runs
     3. Stinks like rotten  meat
     4. Crusts over like a syrupy sweet
     5. Sags like a heavy load
     6. Explodes

Obviously, it's an unpleasant experience for me and for onlookers.

So yes, it's not Wednesday and therefore I shouldn't  be looking on the Bright Side. But there's awesome news out there: oil spills are apparently really, really easy to clean up! Yep, while just one week ago it seemed like every man-made Earth pore was spewing the stuff all over the place, this week authorities are falling over themselves to report that not only are the leaks all stopped, but they're all practically cleaned up already! Let's do a rundown of the success stories:

Gulf of Mexico: Biggest ecological disaster in the history of the United States? Yeah right. More like stirring victory. Did you know that suddenly, most of the oil is 'gone', according to President Obama's 'top energy and climate adivser', Carol Browning? Let's let her repeat that in no uncertain terms, via the New York Times: "The vast majority of the oil is gone".

That would be true except for the minor technicality that at least half of it is not 'gone'. According to the official government report (download it here), which itself is being questioned by scientists, 26% of the oil is not accounted for. An additional 24% of the oil has been "naturally or chemically dispersed" into tiny "droplets" that are still in the water column - so that 24% isn't really 'gone' - it's just really, really hard to see. I love this approach - we should call it the 'lima bean approach', because it's like when kids spread their lima beans around the plate to make it look like they ate more of the nasty little things than they really did.

The same report admits that oh, by the way, such dispersed oil remains a toxic threat until it is degraded by living things - and that's without even mentioning any possible toxic effects of the estimated 1.8 million gallons of Corexit chemical dispersant, that has been used during the spill. No need to go ruining a positive narrative, after all!

So where's the dispersed oil going? Well, scientists are finding crab larvae with globs of oil/chemical dispersant mixtures under their shells, so there's one venue. And what about the oil that has been collected? At the very least, that stuff can't be causing any more problems. Well, The Thin Green Line reports that BP's oil spill wastes are disproportionately dumped  in minority communities. Stay tuned on that one.
And on a completely unrelated and totally innocent note, Deep Sea News blogs that BP has been hiring all sorts of Gulf scientists to be consultants - under conditions that allow BP to muzzle their research for the next three years. I'm baffled, though - if things are going as well as the U.S. government is proclaiming, why would BP have a plan that effectively pays scientists to not report their research? I guess I'm just not a scientist so I wouldn't know.

Anyway, that's the story in the Gulf: at least 50% - and up to 75% - of the oil is still in the water even though the government says the 'vast majority' of it is gone, it is being reported that dump sites for the recovered oily wastes are disproportionately located in non-white communities, and BP looks as though they have been trying to buy scientists' silence. Compliant government, silenced scientists, politically disenfranchised victims - it looks like the problems caused by BP's 4.9 million-barrel spill are all set to just...disappear. 

Hey about a magic trick?
Michigan: Efforts to change the narrative - sorry, I meant clean up - the approximately 3.9 million litres of profit - sorry, oil - spilled by Enbridge in the rough and remote wilderness of southern Michigan have apparently been fairly successful. No word as to whether they've moved on to the phase where you wring every drop out of the local geese. Still, credit where credit is due: after receiving numerous warnings and eventually being hauled, earlier in the year, to Washington to hear federal regulators' serious concerns about the pipeline in question, after apparently waiting for several - and possibly as much as 19 hours - between receiving the first alarms and reporting the spill, after having their initial cleanup plan rejected by the feds, and after apparently getting public officials to bar some members of the media from the spill site, Enbridge has rolled up its sleeves, put its best people to work on the issue, and totally redefined the narrative over the past few days. The story now isn't the multiple failures associated with the spill - it's the success of the cleanup, dude! What everyone wants to know, though, is will the narrative shift be enough to keep this spill off of Enbridge's "Dirty Dozen" deeds as compiled by The Tyee?

China: But by far, the absolute best response time to a major oil spill has been the one associated with the massive spill in Dalian, China. Sure, at least one expert estimates that the spill was at least 40 times greater than the official estimate, with a total of 18 to 27 million gallons of oil spilled (which would make it bigger than the Exxon Valdez spill), but that didn't stop the government from declaring that the the oil spill had been, well, cleaned up a mere 9 days after it occurred. That kind of reaction time puts the rest of the world to shame. I mean, they must have been catching the stuff in their hats while it was still falling from the sky. Needless to say, in reality the oil is not all cleaned up, and the status of the spill, its impacts, and the cleanup is largely unknown.

So there you have it: from the Gulf to Michigan to Dalian, the new narrative is that oil spills are proving to be just really, really easy to clean up. So don't worry! According to this new narrative, you have nothing to fear from, say, things like Enbridge's Northern Gateway project.

Now don't you feel better?


  1. OK, I've gotten feedback that the Langston Hughes and MC5 references were overly vague. So to lay it right out: paragraph #1 is entirely cribbed from "A Dream Deferred" by Langston Hughes, and the "I've...I've...I've got to blog about" part is kind of meant to sound like the part in Kick Out the Jams where the guy goes "I...I...I'm gonna kick em out". Oh well. Made sense when I wrote it.

  2. I'm picturing a Venn diagram of the high quality folks who would get both references.