Just another Reality-based bubble in the foam of the multiverse.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

what you don't know won't hurt them


...When it comes to food safety an uptick in long term cancer rates is a snoozer. But if the children of rich white people who ate seafood from the Gulf start vomiting blood and bleeding from their rectum next Thursday then people who matter will make phone calls to people who can make changes. And things will change. Unless this happens the FDA can get away with not testing seafood from the Gulf for the chemicals in Corexit....

Similarly, the long slow death of the Louisiana bayou gets little press. It is very pleasing to see this piece, Collapsing Marsh Dwarfs BP Oil Blowout as Ecological Disaster by Ken Wells, in of all places, Bloomberg:

...Long before BP’s blowout menaced the Gulf of Mexico, an oil industry-related coastal crisis of another kind began unfolding all over the Mississippi River coastal delta. Dredging for navigation, oil and gas drilling and pipeline construction has ripped apart the estuary’s fragile system of fresh and saltwater marshes.

Between 1901, when drilling began in Louisiana, and the 1980s, the oil and gas industry laid tens of thousands of miles of pipelines and dredged 9,300 miles of canals in an industrial invasion of a wetland that once covered 3.2 million acres. Since the 1930s, more than a third of it has vanished, an area the size of Delaware. Each year, 15,300 acres more disappear, according to Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast.

Not all this can be laid to oil and gas drilling; the industry rejects the notion that it is chiefly responsible. Whatever the case, the destruction of marshland reverberates far beyond Louisiana. The state’s waters and wetlands underpin a commercial seafood industry that generates about $2.4 billion a year in wages and sales and provides almost a quarter of the catch in the contiguous U.S., according to the Louisiana Seafood Marketing Board. They serve as wildlife breeding grounds, sheltering and feeding 5 million migratory birds a year, according to state data.

The wetlands also absorb and filter out pollutants and help slow storm surges. Marsh losses in the past 40 years alone could raise the height of a Category 3 storm surge by as much as 10 feet under certain conditions; marsh loss and the presence of a badly eroded navigation channel called the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet may have magnified Hurricane Katrina’s surge in 2005 and helped turn the storm into a $150 billion catastrophe for the New Orleans region, according to computer modeling by Louisiana State University scientists.

Coastal Louisiana accounts for 27 percent of U.S. energy production while an 83,000-mile infrastructure of pipelines and transfer stations transports 40 percent of its energy needs, counting petroleum from imports and offshore wells, according to data from the state’s Department of Natural Resources and the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association.

The collapse of Louisiana’s coastal marshes is “an international economic and ecological calamity unequaled in history,” jeopardizing more than “$100 billion in energy infrastructure,” said America’s Wetland Foundation, a Louisiana coastal preservation group partly underwritten by the oil industry, in a 2008 report. Much of the pipeline network is buried beneath marshes. Erosion has already exposed high- pressure pipelines to storms and marine traffic, causing oil spills and accidents.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 damaged 457 pipelines, destroyed 113 oil and gas platforms and caused more than 44 spills totaling 9 million gallons of oil, according to post- Katrina reports by the Coast Guard and the federal Minerals Management Service. The 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska amounted to 11 million gallons.

The state has floated an ambitious marsh and barrier-island rebuilding program that since Katrina it has tied to hurricane protection. The cost may come to $50 billion over time, according to the plan. To compensate victims for its spill, BP set up a $20 billion escrow fund.

Several factors are at play in the state’s coastal decimation. Coastal deltas naturally expand and contract over time. Since the U.S. built levees along the Mississippi following devastating floods in 1927, silt that once built land as the river meandered through the marshes has been falling into the deep waters of the Gulf. Starved of sediment, wetlands become waterlogged, sink and die. This is compounded by rising seas and the natural settling of subsea geological structures, scientists say.

That doesn’t fully explain why a delta built over eight to 10 millennia has shrunk so much in the past eight decades, the scientists say. Dredging to locate drilling rigs and construction of navigation channels have disrupted the delicate interface between upland marshes and saltwater wetlands, says Kerry St. Pe, director of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, a marsh-preservation group headquartered in Thibodaux, Louisiana. Salt water poisons freshwater marshes and swamps, he says. Currents, tides, boats and storms hasten the erosion, especially along the unstable banks of dredged canals.

St. Pe also points to the billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of gas that have been sucked from beneath the state’s coastal zone by oil and gas development. “We’re not just eroding, we’re sinking,” he says. “The oil and gas extraction has set off a collapse in our coast.”

Mr. Wells, and the rich white guys at Bloomberg, realize the greater act of piracy when they see it. The Louisiana wetlands have an immense value economically, and we're losing them. But like the continuing poisoning of the Gulf, this is an issue the larger oil-bought main$tream has every short-term financial reason to ignore.

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