Catching up: the Deepwater Horizon…

here is a quick encapsulation of the last month of the Deepwater Horizon disaster… so far there havent been large numbers of bird casualties. Around 30 birds have come into care, around 45 have been found dead… 4 birds have been treated and released and about 15 birds are still in care… following this re-cap, we’ll post detailed information on the birds impacted, as well as what we know regarding other wildlife, and the underlying issues at cause in this catastrophe…

It has been over a month now since an offshore well in the Gulf of Mexico has been gushing somewhere between 25,000 and 100,000 barrels of crude oil each day. As of 20 May the resulting slick is “twice the size of New Jersey”, or 16,000 square miles. Right now, there doesn’t appear to be a solution that will stop the flow sooner than the time it will take to drill a relief well, estimated to be 90 days. The relief well was started about 3 weeks ago.

Owned by Transocean, leased and operated by British Petroleum(BP), The Deepwater Horizon, an enormous drilling rig specially built to operate at the edge of the abyss, experienced a fatal blowout 20 April, killing 11 people who were working on the drilling floor. 17 others were injured. 115 people were rescued – survivors describing a harrowing leap from 60 feet high into the night sea.

Over the first month, the slick was some distance from the shoreline. It is likely safe to presume that many victims of the slick during this time died at sea, far from rescue. Few oiled birds have been captured, relative to the thousands of victims that often are seen in spills of much less volume. Six dolphins have been found dead but so far it isn’t known if they were killed by the oil. Nearly two hundred sea turtles have been found dead as well, but again, there is no direct evidence yet linking their deaths to the enormous quantities of oil and chemical dispersants that have been added to the sea. Mike Ziccardi of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, is on the scene working on the the rescue of impacted sea turtles and marine mammals. His daily web log updates can be seen at the OWCN website, or on Facebook.

Tri-State Bird Rescue, working with local wildlife rehabilitators as well as International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC), and the various federal agencies, has established four wildlife care facilities along the northern Gulf shore: Fort Jackson, Louisiana; Gulfport, Mississippi; Theodore, Alabama; and Pensacola, Florida. Today (22 May) we’ve learned that a Key West facility is also underway.

So far, four birds have been released, apparently driven to the Atlantic coast of Florida, to be out of harm’s way. While Brown Pelicans and Northern Gannets constitute the majority of birds in care so far, there have also been Laughing Gulls, Turnstones, Royal Terns and Herons. As of now only five birds have died in care or been euthanized due to the severity of their conditions.

Because the gushing well is nearly fifty miles from land, this spill has unfolded in a kind of slow motion which has allowed many to observe the mechanics of spill response, as well as the politics. This is perhaps an unusually transparent event, which may allow us another opportunity – to radically improve the nature of our society’s response to industrial calamity. As of now we can certainly see that money and power have undue influence over the official action.

It was three days, after the search for the missing 11 people was called off, after the rig collapsed and sank to the bottom, before reports of a potentially catastrophic spill were widely seen. Even though the fire itself that had burned for two days, extinguished only by the sinking of the rig, was only possible if the blowout preventer had failed. In fact, the United States Coast Gaurd reported the day after the rig sank that mysteriously there appeared to be no spill. This would have required a bit of somewhat magical, though welcome, good luck.

As it developed, this wasn’t the case. Instead we have the worst oil spill to occur in the United States, with real potential for this to be the worst accidental spill in history, second only to the intentional catastrophe in the Persian Gulf during the first Gulf War. Credible reports suggest that the blown out well is gushing 60,000 barrels of crude oil each day, possibly as much as 100,000 barrels. With approximately 75,000,000 gallons now in the water, the wreck of the Deepwater Horizon is already close on the heels of the June 1979 blow out of the exploratory rig Ixtoc 1, which had been operated by Pemex in the southern part of the Gulf Of Mexico. Ixtoc 1 is believed to have put 100-140 million gallons into the Gulf. It took the responders nine and a half months to stop the flow. The damages to wildlife resulting from that disaster aren’t known, due to lack of study.

For more information on the spill:

for the ‘official’ view

next up: the birds in care…. followed by…. BP – up to no good since the early 20th century

One thought on “Catching up: the Deepwater Horizon…

  1. the depth of my gratitude for this post and your work can only be measured in approximation of the depth of the sadness, the depth of commitment necessary now and the unfathomably profound place from whence we are ALL hemorrhaging. thank you bird ally X for giving us clarified tastes of this poison soup in which we are all immersed.

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