FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Blow Out in the Gulf

by KARL GROSSMAN

The massive oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico formed as now an estimated 5,000 barrels of oil (210,000 gallons daily) gush to the surface following an explosion at an oil rig is what other areas of the United States will face under President Barack Obama’s plan to open more offshore waters to oil and gas drilling.

This could be the Atlantic which, in a speech last month, Obama proposed be opened for drilling—despite decades of it being closed because of oil and gas drilling constituting an environmental threat.

As an investigative reporter for the daily newspaper Long Island Press, in 1970 I broke the story about the oil industry seeking to drill in the offshore Atlantic.

In years following, I probed the environmental consequences of offshore oil and gas drilling finding, as Sarah Palin put it, “drill baby drill,” coming with the the inevitability of—spill baby spill.

I got on the story after a tip from a fisherman who said he had seen in the ocean east of Montauk—on the eastern tip of Long Island—the same kind of vessel as he observed searching for oil when he was a shrimper in the Gulf of Mexico.

I spent the day telephoning oil companies. PR people for each insisted their companies were not involved in searching for oil in the Atlantic. Several scoffed at the very suggestion. But at day’s end, as I was walking out of the office, there was a call from a PR guy at Gulf saying, yes, Gulf was involved in exploring for oil in the Atlantic—as part of a “consortium” of 32 oil companies. These included the companies which all day issued denials. It was a first lesson in oil industry honesty, an oxymoron.

I traveled on the issue including, in 1971, visiting the first drilling rig set up in the Atlantic, off Nova Scotia. It was apparent on the rig that the offshore drilling process is fraught with danger.

A rescue boat went round and round. Positioned on the rig were sealed capsules—designed to eject workers. “We treat every foot of hole like a potential disaster,” explained the representative of Shell Canada.

An oil well blow-out is one thing on land and another entirely on water. The Shell Canada official acknowledged that booms and other devices the oil industry claimed—and still maintains—contain spills “just don’t work in over five foot-foot seas.”

The Atlantic, off Nova Scotia or to the south off the United States, is normally rough—over five foot seas are common.

Thus the oil could be expected in many if not most circumstances to hit shore. But there are “stockpiles of clean-up material on shore,” said the man from Shell Canada. No,” he said, “not straw as in the States. Here we have peat moss.”

I pored over records involving spillage and offshore drilling. They reflected spillage as being chronic. According to Department of Interior records, between 1971 and 1975 there were 5,857 spills totally 51,421 barrels of oil from operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

And, it was acknowledged, the offshore Atlantic is a far more precarious place to drill. . As the President’s Council on Environmental Quality declared in a 1974 report, “A major spill along the beaches of Cape Cod, Long Island or the Middle or South Atlantic states could devastate the areas affected. The Atlantic is a hostile environment for oil and gas operations. Storm and seismic conditions may be more severe than in either the North Sea or the Gulf of Mexico. Recreational industries could be hurt, especially where the character of the communities is one of isolation, historic preservation or natural beauty. Outer continental shelf oil and gas production will result in onshore development of huge refineries, petrochemical complexes, gas processing facilities.”

I traveled on the story—to Massachusetts where the Department of Interior was planning to lease 882,443 acres of offshore Atlantic lands on the George’s Bank, one of the globe’s foremost fishing grounds, for oil and gas drilling.

I went to the Florida Keys in whose turquoise waters Interior would let oil companies drill.

And I spent plenty of time in New Jersey—Interior held many of its meetings involving

Mid-Atlantic leasing in the state capital of Trenton. In 1976, it leased 529,446 Mid-Atlantic acres to the oil industry for $1.1 billion. There was strong resistance up and down the Atlantic coast which included lawsuits.

Various reports filed by Interior in response to the litigation admitted major environmental consequences from the drilling. In one, in 1978, in connection with the leasing of the 529,446 Mid-Atlantic acres, Interior said: “Recovery of the affected area from a large spill will be slow, probably requiring a minimum of ten years.” For the anticipated 20-to-25 year lives of the fields, it forecast four large spills of more than 1,000 barrels, 58 spills of 50 to 1,000 barrels and 3,340 spills of up to 50 barrels.

Much of the Atlantic coast—like that of the Gulf of Mexico where oil from the explosion at British Petroleum’s Transocean Deepwater Explorer rig is expected to arrive imminently—is composed of estuaries, bay backs and miles upon miles of fragile wetlands, the spawning and feeding grounds for the chain of marine life.  It’s a “soft” coast that would absorb oil like a sop rag.  There’s no way to clean oil from wetlands, to clean it off the bottoms of bays, no way to get it off bay bottoms where shellfish live.

The Department of Interior’s 1978 Mid-Atlantic report warned that “adverse effects on commercial fisheries will be encountered” which would include “smothering of shellfish…Finfish and shellfish will suffer mortality from oil spills and flavor may change because of tainting.”

A leading scientist speaking out on off-shore Atlantic oil and gas drilling was the late Dr. Max Blumer of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. He also noted a human-cancer connection. Oil picked up on human skin or taken in through the eating of marine life that had ingested oil could be cancer-causing, he said. “When oil is spilled into the environment we lose control of it,” Dr. Blumer warned. Countermeasures are “effective only if all the oil is recovered immediately after the spill. The technology to achieve this goal does not exist.”

It still does not exist.

Drilling of the Atlantic was stopped by Congressional action.

But that would end if Congress goes along with President Obama’s declaration in his March 30th speech that “my administration will consider potential areas for development” for oil and gas drilling in the Mid- and South-Atlantic, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and off the north coast of Alaska.

Beyond the environmental devastation threatened, the drilling itself would have a huge price: the cost of off-shore drilling is estimated at ten times the cost of drilling for petroleum on land.

This would make for very expensive gasoline, oil requiring huge capital and operating expenses to mine—the kind of money with which could vastly expand our getting energy from the sun, the winds and other clean, safe, renewable sources. But oil companies, being oil companies, are fixed on their product.

KARL GROSSMAN, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, has focused on investigative reporting on energy and environmental issues for more than 40 years. He is the host of the nationally-aired TV program Enviro Close-Up (www.envirovideo.com) and the author of numerous books.

 

WORDS THAT STICK

 

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail