Fast Company

Oil Soaks La. Shores, Gulf Officially a Fisheries Disaster, BP Keeps Using Dispersants

Gulf oil spill

 A month after oil started gushing from BP's ruptured Gulf well, we're officially witnessing a fishery disaster, BP refuses to use less toxic chemical dispersants, and oil is sinking into Louisiana's shores--with horrifying results.

CNN reports that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has closed almost 20% of all commercial and recreational fisheries as a result of the spill, and now U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke has declared a fisheries disaster in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama--a move that lets the federal government send in extra resources to help with cleanup. No word on how much cash will be offered or when the government plans to provide funds.

In the meantime, oil is still gushing into the Gulf unabated, and BP continues to try every far-fetched solution it can think of. Next up is the "Top Kill" approach, which involves pumping drilling mud into the leaking pipe and sealing it with cement. BP estimates that the approach, expected to start on Wednesday, has a 60% to 70% chance of success--but we'll only be satisfied when we see this thing work. If the Top Kill approach fails, don't be surprised if the federal government steps in.

BP may be racing to plug the leak, but the tarnished oil giant doesn't seem to care about the environmental impact of the spill. The EPA ordered BP to scale back on the amount of Corexit (a toxic chemical dispersant) it uses in the spill, but BP refuses. In a statement, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson expressed her concerns: "We are still deeply concerned about the things we don’t know. The long-term effects on aquatic life are still unknown and we must make sure that the dispersants that are used are as non-toxic as possible." So why won't BP let up? Dispersants keep oil away from the ocean surface--and away from the prying eyes of the public. As these images from the Big Picture demonstrate, that effort at secrecy isn't exactly working.

Gulf oil spill

But while reporters are having a difficult time gaining access to the spill sites, crowdsourcing will hopefully ensure that every little detail of this disaster is recorded. The Oil Reporter iPhone app called allows users to record audio and video of the spill and provide info on emergency situations. Urgent submissions go straight to CrisisCommons, an organization working to crowdsource disaster response.

On the morbid side of things, gambling website PaddyPower.com is taking bets on spill-related extinctions. The New York Times reports that Kemp's ridley turtle looks most likely to go first, while species like the gulf sturgeon, smalltooth sawfish, and elkhorn cora are less likely to disappear. PaddyPower seems to be flip about the whole thing, but the site serves as a startling wake-up call--yes, this spill might be so bad that entire species die out as a result.

 Read more about the Gulf Oil Spill

Got information on the spill you want to share? Email us at oil@fastcompany.com. It'll go directly to the lead reporter and editor on these stories, and they'll assume all initial communication to be strictly confidential.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by e-mail.

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9 Comments

  • karljeffery

    Hi Tim - I'm not a subsea expert or anything - but it does sound like the first containment device which BP tried and which got clogged up with hydrates except theirs had metal walls and yours has rubber walls. I guess if BP subsea engineers don't know about behaviour of oil / gas / water mixtures at those temperatures and pressures then no-one does - but why do you think your device wouldn't get clogged up and the BP one did? I think the volume of containment space is a critical factor - the smaller the space, the faster the fluid is moving away from the BOP and the less chance it has to form hydrates, but that is an argument against your conduit if it is many feet in diameter. If you want to e-mail me directly the address is jeffery@d-e-j.com cheers Karl

  • Tim Johnson

    @Karl Jeffrey, Re: "Note to Tim Johnson, I am confident that my rubber tube won't clog up with hydrates like BP's containment device did and can handle 1500m water pressure because___."

    The conduit is not a narrow, pipe-like hose; it is many feet in diameter. There is no pressure differential on any of the parts. The entire apparatus fills with water as it descends. Imagine a glass jar filled with air and capped with a lid, and forced to great depth; it would break under the pressure. Now, imagine the same glass jar with no lid, filled with water and allowed to sink naturally to the bottom. It would not break no matter what the pressure reaches.

    The natural buoyancy of oil and gas cause it to rise; SQUID simply channels the rising effluent to the surface where it can be contained in one place rather than spreading out across the water. No pumps, no forcing into a small channel, no pressure of any sort.

  • Sharon

    This is so sad we have lost a huge part of Americans way of life, unemployment will soar only fisherman will be cleaning oil goo. Which now is allmost impossible to contain or ever be a fruitful Gulf waters before this accident. Sea life will die, shores are blacken and there is no way to pickup all the mess booms are not working, skimmers are not getting the oil more than a few feet down, the marshlands are being allowed to swallow up barrels of oil and everyday it moves deeper and wider how to stop now is a major problems. They must vacuum every drop of this oil or burn off the toxic chemicals how can this be done in a safe manner.
    Watching how bad this on news programs is only the tip of the iceberg, I can see why? so many people are mad as hell and have no idea what to do either/ the currents moving this mess into the Keys.
    The govenment has failed to protect shorelines the President should have not waited or played the blame game. Only thing now is time we are fighting against.

  • karljeffery

    Hi Tyler,

    1) Just because an accident happened does not mean anyone is at fault. I'm not saying BP is not at fault, just that we don't know yet.

    Eg see the report from the investigation into the Airbus 320 which crashed into the Hudson river in January
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05... that didn't find anyone at fault.

    You must be the first person to say that oil companies do a good job at maintaining their image! (although you're not really saying that, but saying they spend lots of money on it, which is a bit difference)

    What is the evidence that BP showed gross negligence in assuring its contractors "did what it took to avoid this mess"?

    2) My question was about the federal government's expertise, not who it answers to.

    3) Oil gets broken down by bacteria over time - also if it gets spread around that's good. For example I just read that two Exxon Valdez worth of oil seeps into the Gulf of Mexico naturally every year - but it doesn't bother anyone because it is fairly well spread around. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/re...

    4) Well someone has to answer the question of which dispersant to use - BP or the government can't just say it is "unanswerable"

    Is BP doing a good job? No-one has done anything like this before so there isn't much of a frame of reference to answer the question, but you can see this Economist article http://www.economist.com/scien... which gives a good idea of the effort being made, I think someone said it is the biggest clean up operation the world has ever seen, the other oil majors are saying they would do things in roughly the same way if it was their problem as far as I understand, BP has made several attempts to stop the leak some of which have worked fairly well, the last big spill in the Gulf of Mexico Ixtoc 1 took 9 months to contain - I suppose ultimately we will have to wait for history to make its judgement on that. Some people are saying they could have been better prepared for it

  • Megan DaGata

    BP is admittedly using one of the most toxic chemical dispersants on the market. The EPA has repeatedly asked them to discontinue using this dispersant. They have purchased a large batch of an alternative dispersant from a plant in Houston and ARE NOT removing it from the plant because BP is the one that thinks it will not work as well and may be more toxic, but in my opinion is that if the EPA is the one telling you to change perhaps they know what they are talking about. It is their responsibility to watch out for the environment.

    I no longer live on the Gulf coast, I moved in November, but the response of BP is troubling. They are ruining a whole body of water with their inability to plug a hole. I get that the pressure is extreme, I get that some times the seas are rough, I get that they are trying what THEIR scientists are thinking of, but it is not good enough. There are many other responsible citizens trying to help and they are not being heard. They can only protect their own property, and so much of the land that is being consumed by this disaster is federal land and national wildlife preserves. The government isn't doing anything because the liability rests with BP, Halliburton, and Transocean. (I think it was Halliburton.) If the government steps in and says BP, You are not doing a good enough job, we are taking over. All they will do is give BP or Conoco Phillips or Texaco a government contract to clean it up because they are the people we have trained to do the job.

    BP is concerned about the money they will lose if they just shut the well down. Blow it up or do what ever you have to do, but shut it down. If they just shut it down in the most convienient way possible they will lose all access to the mass of oil underneath. Right now, the amount that is leaking is miniscule to the amount that the well contains and the amount of money they will make. There may be a claim of them trying to do everything they can, but they are doing everything they can to maintain the stability of the well and the region so that they can continue to profit. Because when it comes to the oil industry it is all about profit. It doesn't matter where you fall in the process you are there to make money. Lots of money.

    The only lasting solution to not have the entire globe polluted is to break our dependance on fossil fuels. That is the only long term solution, because they hole will get plugged, but next week, next year, sometime soon and with out warning this will happen again and we will wonder what it took this time and BP will be hailed a hero because at long last after weeks or months of a leak they finally fixed it.

    Side Note - On more than one occassion BP was told to shut the rig down because of safety concerns and broken equipment. If the watch groups that told them to shut it down had done some follow up we wouldn't be here right now and my family that still lives on the Gulf Coast wouldn't have to watch and wonder when the oil will hit their shore.

  • red554

    BP is out on the water today spraying these toxic dispersants that are known to make humans and animals sick, they are talking about turning off the live feed that shows us whats going on, and are on camera telling journalists they can't document the affect of the spill - I've been watching the footage as it rolls in through Frequency and it's hugely informative - http://www.frequency.com/video... We need to keep tracking their every move, and not letting them get away with the finger pointing and spin. Thanks for keeping the heat on, Ariel, keep it up.

  • karljeffery

    Hi, some questions to the journalist:I think that BP doesn't care about the environmental impact of the oil spill because ____. I think the federal government has more expertise than BP in oil spill clean up because _____. Dispersant causes the oil slick to break up into small oil droplets which are faster biodegraded by microorganisms and don't make so much mess on the beach and that is a bad idea because ____. I am confident that the government has a better idea than BP about which dispersant to use and how much because ____. Note to Tim Johnson, I am confident that my rubber tube won't clog up with hydrates like BP's containment device did and can handle 1500m water pressure because___.

  • Tyler Gray

    1. Because it's an oil company currently spilling an ungodly amount of deadly oil into the Gulf of Mexico and because of its tendency to pour about as many, if not more, resources into public image as environmental efforts, and because of its gross negligence in assuring that its contractors did what it took to avoid this mess. 2. ... it's responsible to the citizens of the United States not the bottom line or a comparatively small group of shareholders and is more inclined to disclose information. 3. ... the oil doesn't disappear, it merely spreads about in smaller drops, kind of like when you used to try to convince your parents you'd eaten your vegetables by spreading them around the plate, but really because no one knows -- but many have suggested the worst -- effects of the chemicals being used, which could actually cause a separate but equal environmental disaster. 4. Mostly an unanswerable question, as I don't believe anyone in the government is suggesting he or she knows which chemical would work better, only that the one currently being used in record amounts is most likely toxic. 5. N/A.

    Now my turn: What part of this situation do you think is being handed well? Which of BP's efforts do you applaud? Do those make the tiniest dent in the damage they've done?

  • Tim Johnson

    Dispersants are not the answer, nor are any of the surface containment or clean-up ideas. We have developed an extremely simple method to TOTALLY contain the leak at the source, capture ALL the leaking oil, and allow BP and its partners to continue repair and plugging operations while the oil is being captured.

    It's called the SQUID™. It has been vetted by engineers and major oilfield service companies are trying to get this into BP's hands, but BP is running around like a chicken without a head. Getting this idea in front of BP has been like a 3-ring circus. It is shocking the total lack of interest BP has in hearing real solutions. If anybody has any ideas that will work to get in front of people who can make decisions, please contact us.

    Check out the article and video to see how the (patent pending) SQUID works:

    http://www.culturemap.com/news...