"The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume." -- Tony Hayward, CEO, British Petroleum
Picture yourself standing at the 50 yard line of a football field. Now picture the football field as a building three miles high. Now stretch that three mile high, 100 yard wide building out to ten miles long. Now imagine it is made of crude oil and floating in the Gulf of Mexico. Is this a visual representation of the full damage of the BP Deep Horizon oil spill? Not even close. It is only one of several enormous plumes of oil that have been found in deep water.
These unbelievably giant plumes of pollution were only recently discovered and the damage they will do to the underwater environment in the gulf is hard to grasp. For one thing, they are leaching oxygen out of the water, greatly diminishing the volume of life that can be sustained. The current estimate of oxygen reduction in the vicinity of the largest plume is 30%.
British Petroleum has consistently downplayed the scale of destruction and devastation which the marine environment and shorelines are experiencing. It is literally incalculable since so much is unknown about the volume of flow, the impact of dispersants and the surface and subsurface spread of the oil. But as more information comes out about the lapses in the safety and integrity of their drilling platform, the costs go way beyond the mind-boggling environmental toll and start to add up in other ways. Start with the 11 people whose lives were violently ended by the explosion. That, in and of itself, is too high a price to pay. Then move on to the costs in United States taxpayer resources. According to the White House's Deep Horizon Incident Joint Information Center we have mounted an effort that, as of May 16th, included:
* Personnel were quickly deployed and more than 19,000 are currently responding to protect the shoreline and wildlife.
* More than 650 vessels are responding on site, including skimmers, tugs, barges, and recovery vessels to assist in containment and cleanup efforts--in addition to dozens of aircraft, remotely operated vehicles, and multiple mobile offshore drilling units.
* More than 1.25 million feet of containment boom and 440,000 feet of sorbent boom have been deployed to contain the spill--and approximately 285,000 feet of containment boom and 900,000 feet of sorbent boom are available.
* Approximately 6.3 million gallons of an oil-water mix have been recovered.
* Approximately 600,000 gallons of dispersant have been deployed. More than 280,000 gallons are available.
* 17 staging areas are in place and ready to protect sensitive shorelines, including: Dauphin Island, Ala., Orange Beach, Ala., Theodore, Ala., Panama City, Fla., Pensacola, Fla., Port St. Joe, Fla., St. Marks, Fla., Amelia, La., Cocodrie, La., Grand Isle, La., Shell Beach, La., Slidell, La., St. Mary, La.; Venice, La., Biloxi, Miss., Pascagoula, Miss., and Pass Christian, Miss.
The costs for an operation on this scale are staggering. The chances that the United States will fully recover these costs from BP are remote. This is only the beginning, only a fractional representation of resources devoted so far.
Consider, also, the cost to individuals and small businesses. There are thousands of people paying for this disaster with their very livelihoods. People who make their living in the tourism, fishing and seafood industries will suffer huge, personal financial losses. If the disgraceful precedent of the Exxon Valdez is any indication of what to expect in terms of restitution, the people of the Gulf will wait a very long time and receive almost nothing in return for the loss of their way of life. Many people could grow old and die waiting for compensation.
British Petroleum, TransOcean and Halliburton, the three corporations who brought us this mess are working furiously to invoke limits of liability and to distance themselves from the financial and ethical ramifications of their disaster. They have their champions in Congress too. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is offering them aid and comfort by blocking a bill to increase their liability from $75,000,000 to $1,000,000,000.
Finally, think of the cost to overall human health. The chemical composition of what will ultimately be millions of gallons of dispersent is "proprietary". This means it has not been disclosed to the public. We have no real idea of what BP is pumping into our water and how it will affect the marine environment, the food chain and human health. Air quality is now a serious, and quickly growing, problem throughout the region.
"It is impossible to say and we will mount, as part of the aftermath, a very detailed environmental assessment but everything we can see at the moment suggests that the overall environmental impact will be very, very modest." -- Tony Hayward, CEO, British Petroleum
Dr. Hayward, you're being too modest.
Follow John DeCock on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jdecock