07/07/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Oil's Changing Personality

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Yesterday was the first day I got a chance to see the now infamous BP oil disaster up close and as expected, we found oil a few miles from shore, several miles closer than where the NRDC team had seen it the day before and in a different form. What we saw looked like the oil had been dispersed or had been weathered a bit by the sea. It wasn’t a thick tar-like or crude looking substance, but more like tendrils of floating algae, however, once we dipped a rag into the water to see if it was oil, the rag was covered in the oily substance. My colleague Regan also dipped her fingers in the ocean to see what it felt like and said the best comparison is feeling like she had heavy moisturizer on, it was very slick, almost a slithery texture.  

We went out to Breton Island and Grand Gosier Island to see where the oil had moved from the day before. As we made the trip out there were pelicans diving into the water left and right, along with a growing horizon of oil wells and other stationary oil-affiliated machinery. As we got closer to Grand Gosier, we stopped for about an hour to watch several dolphin pods swim, or coast by, knowing they were surrounded by oil we had just seen. Living in Santa Monica, I’ve had the opportunity to see healthy dolphins frolick along the California coast.

I’m not a marine mammal expert, but the noises I heard from the dolphins were really disturbing. As they came up for air, we could hear them exhaling and some of them sounded like they were coughing or having trouble breathing properly. All of the dolphins we saw surfaced quite often or coasted along the top of the waves, which unfortunately is where much of the most concentrated fumes from the oil’s volatile organic compounds are found.

Seeing the expanse of the oil surrounding Grand Gosier and also encroaching on Breton Island, a nature preserve, is certainly depressing and a concern to know what will happen to these sea birds and marine mammals over the coming days, weeks, months as our government tries to abate the spill? The one thing I kept coming back to it the fact that even as I write this, there are gallons and gallons of oil gushing out of the broken well at the bottom of the ocean and there are estimates that the oil bed itself could hold tens of millions of gallons yet. At one point in the boat trip I looked around and saw at least 40 different structures just where we were, all part of the thousands of oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico alone. The thing that’s been scaring me is knowing there are other similar Deepwater Horizons out in the Gulf. Do those operators have plans in place to prevent a blow out or could we face another Deepwater Horizon oil catastrophe again in the Gulf?