By Bob Cesca: Americans have insufferably short memories and even shorter attention spans. The shiny-object spectacle of a major news event is captivating until another shiny object comes along and we’re on to something else. And if that event has no physical bearing on us personally — whether it’s geographically far away or victimizing people outside of our immediate demographic — we lose interest even faster.
So when there’s a massive oil spill way, way out there in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, we kind of lie to ourselves believing the oil will just, you know, disappear. It’s a similar mindset as when we throw away garbage. As long as it’s away from our ugly mugs, it’s no longer stinking up the place. Out of sight, out of mind.
The BP oil spill — the result of the Deep Water Horizon oil rig explosion two years ago tomorrow, April 20, 2010 — is just like that.
It’s not in our back yards. It’s not visibly hurting you and me personally. It’s not as pulse-pounding and dramatic as it was two years ago, with oil spewing from that underwater pipe live on streaming internet video while the oil rig burned like a nuclear explosion. Once the geyser of oil was capped, the debate about energy and oil production was over. The beaches looked clean (they’re really not so clean at all), and the nation went on to the next thing. And right around the corner was Fukushima — another energy-related disaster similar to the BP spill in so many ways, chief among them is the fact that our energy policies, our usage and our menu of choices are exactly the same as they were before the Deep Water Horizon exploded.
Yes, most people, irrespective of ideology or political party or environmental concern, have moved on. Personally, I’m as guilty as anyone else. I don’t blog about it as often as I did when it was happening in real time and, frankly, it’s a challenge to continuously stare a tragedy of that scale in the face all day every day. Even the best of us can suffer occasional bouts of outrage fatigue. In fact, I didn’t even remember the anniversary was this week until Ashby from my blog sent me this link about one of the many consequences of the spill and the toxic dispersants used to rinse away the barrels and barrels of nightmarish gunk.
Two years later, shrimp, crab and other sea life are turning up with horrific deformities. The dispersant acts as a mutagenic chemical, altering the genome of the life it infiltrates. So shrimpers and fishermen are pulling up large numbers of eyeless shrimp and crabs.
At the height of the last white shrimp season, in September, one of our friends caught 400 pounds of these,” [Louisiana commercial fisher Tracy] Kuhns told Al Jazeera while showing a sample of the eyeless shrimp.
According to Kuhns, at least 50 per cent of the shrimp caught in that period in Barataria Bay, a popular shrimping area that was heavily impacted by BP’s oil and dispersants, were eyeless. Kuhns added: “Disturbingly, not only do the shrimp lack eyes, they even lack eye sockets.”
“Some shrimpers are catching these out in the open Gulf [of Mexico],” she added, “They are also catching them in Alabama and Mississippi. We are also finding eyeless crabs, crabs with their shells soft instead of hard, full grown crabs that are one-fifth their normal size, clawless crabs, and crabs with shells that don’t have their usual spikes … they look like they’ve been burned off by chemicals.”
As we were warned by various experts at the time, the dispersants could be more dangerous than the oil itself. Prior to being injected into the Gulf, Nalco, the manufacturer of Corexit, reported that there weren’t any toxicity studies performed on the dispersant. And, really, how could they ever determine what a million gallons of dispersant mixed with hundreds of millions of gallons of oil would do to animal and human life. But because dispersants would ameliorate the sight of sludge-covered sea gulls (they look bad on TV), BP dumped unprecedented amounts of Corexit and other chemicals into the oil-drenched water. If you remember the internet video of the leaking pipes, you might recall how dispersant was being pumped directly into the geysers of oil.
Only 11 people died in the initial explosion of the BP oil rig. Countless others could be contaminated with toxic chemicals, and nobody really knows the long-term genetic-level damage to the people who live near the spill, or who eat the seafood produced there. An estimated 210,000,000 gallons of oil is still in the water, either in the form of 10-mile-long slicks, or in tiny chemical globules. As consumers, we’re still sucking down oil like Coca-Cola (in our defense, we have few alternatives). The Obama administration, to its credit, is clamping down on drilling with new regulations, even though the president continues to push for an “all of the above” energy policy that includes oil, nuclear and natural gas — natural gas, by the way, is another massive environmental disaster waiting to happen. But we really haven’t advanced very far away from the old school sources of energy due to Big Oil lobbyists and Republican resistance against funding new energy technology with a moon-race caliber effort.
And so we can expect more of the same unless there’s a popular effort to remember and retaliate against the awfulness that occurred two short years ago in the waters of the Gulf.