Scientist Discusses Impact of Gulf Oil Spill

Sunday, May 2, 2010

An oil spill off the coast of Louisiana caused by a  blown-out well could turn into one of the most severe environmental catastrophes in the nation’s history, experts say, and it occurred at an especially bad time given the offshore activity of the spring season, according to David Bush, a coastal geologist at the University of West Georgia.

Bush said the spill coinciding with the spring shrimping season and the migratory season of birds could aggravate damage to the gulf’s industry and animals.

“It could affect not only wildlife but also tourism if it continues to spread east,” he said.

As the huge spill began to seep ashore, it became increasingly likely that birds such as skimmers, gulls and pelicans and mammals such as minks and otters would be endangered.

Reports said more than 200,000 gallons of oil a day were flowing from the Gulf of Mexico well, which was drilled by a rig operated by British Petroleum. It caught fire April 20, forcing authorities to try to contain the spill.

Bush said better preparedness for such emergencies is needed.

“The lesson here is that there has to be better emergency response,” he said. “When severe storms strike, [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] is ready with rapid-response operations that are able to immediately limit the impact of the disaster.”

Bush said that oil companies have been resistant to setting up an emergency-response system because of the costs.

He also faulted British Petroleum for not being forthright when the accident first happened.

“They downplayed the amount of oil leaking,” he said.

Despite this incident, Bush said he still supports drilling efforts.

“It doesn’t make me feel like we should shut down offshore drilling. Most coastal geologists are against it, but I’m different,” he said. “If it’s done safely, usually there will not be problems like this.”

Bush said recovery efforts would have to be massive in order to stave off damage to the ecosystem.

“There have to be volunteers cleaning up, bird by bird,” he said.

The entire food chain in the area could be severely affected, especially as the oil reaches new depths in the gulf.

“There are lots of small critters deeper in the water that have important roles in the food chain, and as the oil begins to reach them, they will be threatened, and the predators that feed on them will also be affected,” he said.