The American news media is often criticized for reporting a story into the ground and ignoring other stories in the process. There is a bit of truth to that, however it is also the American public that must accept some of the blame. At some point during the last century it became the American way to go full-bore, head-first into any situation and basically obsess about it and little else. Of course, long before the issue was truly solved, it also became our way to become bored and seek out a new problem to attack foolhardily without realistic goals, proper financing or an exit plan.
For more than a month after the large earthquake in Haiti earlier this year, the U.S. and the media were all over the disaster reporting the story and pledging support for the devastated third-world country. Yet, the country is largely ignored nowadays and undoubtably still worse off today than it was before the earthquake shook apart the country’s capital city. If it were not for Wyclef Jean’s failed presidential bid, the country would continue to garner little news coverage. It is not right. But it has become the American way. Our attention spans are short and likely to get even shorter thanks to the ever faster pace of technology in our everyday lives.
BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster also has largely faded from the news since the blown-out well was capped temporarily back in mid July. During the next two weeks the failed blowout preventer will be replaced and the relief well will be completed and permanently plug the source of the country’s largest ever oil spill.
Now that weeks have gone by without a large sheen of oil seen floating on the surface of the Gulf Mexico, and with the media’s abandonment of the area so quickly, some would believe that the catastrophe is over and was largely overhyped as no beaches were ever seen completely covered in a sludge of oil. But is that really the case?
The appearance of a major disaster may have been largely avoided, but this is likely due in part to BP’s massive use of oil dispersants – including the first ever large-scale usage of such dispersants underwater. While the beaches, with a few exceptions, maintained the appearance of being clean, such has not been entirely true.
The most-used dispersants in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (Corexit 9527 and 9500) are widely reported to be just as toxic as the oil itself. The oil and dispersants have been combined thousands of feet underwater despite such a situation having never been considered or studied in the past. It was assumed the oil which encountered such dispersants would sink quickly to the ocean floor. Instead scientists have reported discovering vast plumes of tiny particles of oil floating underwater throughout the Gulf.
Even to this day, large pockets of underwater oil are being discovered are being found within Pensacola Bay. Thousands of pounds of weather oil is being removed from the bay area while BP and government officials continue to deny it even exists. The sugar white beaches of Alabama and Florida’s Panhandle region appear to be perfectly normal. Such is not the case though. Dig down one to two feet into the sand and viscous deposits of oil become visible in many areas. Quantities of oil and dispersants are mixed in with the surface sand of our beaches now, but in a near-microscopic state which is not visible to the human eye.
The oil is not gone. While, a sizable amount may indeed have been collected at the site of the spill, or skimmed or burned at the surface, the truth remains a vast majority of it remained in the water. Mother Nature is proving even more resilient than expected as previously unknown bacteria is consuming the spilled oil a full half mile under the ocean’s surface. We don’t fully understand how oil is staying suspended in the water column, instead of sinking to the ocean floor or rising to the surface. More of it may yet come ashore, yet I say the odds are it will be in a dissolved state and far less visible in the water.
How the thousands of plant and animal species living within the Gulf’s water and marshes will be affected are an unknown. We are not dealing with a normal oil spill here. The depth of the spill and the use of dispersants have turned a portion of the world’s ninth-largest ocean into a largely uncontrolled environmental experiment.
We all hope that Mother Nature will rebound and the damage will be minimal. But we just don’t know if that will be the case and may not have the final answer for many years to come.
Let’s hope that when the answer is known, the government, the media and American public still care enough to listen and learn from our mistakes.