Month 5, Day 17: I’m Glad I’m Not Plankton

The latest news from the Gulf is that lots of the oil has been whacked by huge quantities of toxic dispersants, which appear to be making it vanish from the surface, but collect somewhere below. Meanwhile, oil gushing out of the pipe on the ocean floor is collecting in enormous blobs that are going to wipe out entire ecosystems. The LA Times did a little piece about it, so I wrote them a little letter.

While British Petroleum claims success at trapping a fraction of the oil pouring out of its broken pipe, it has steadily refused requests from scientists who want to obtain accurate measurements of the flow. It’s not hard to see why: BP will be liable for massive cleanup expenses, and ambiguous measurements are in their corporate self-interest. The corporation’s estimates are almost certainly an order of magnitude too low. As Boxall and Semuels point out, much of the resulting pollution appears to be remaining below the surface, where it is likely to decimate the extraordinary aquatic life of the Gulf of Mexico’s unique ecosystems. Recovery may take decades, if it happens at all — and what price can be put on vulnerable ecosystems? The whole catastrophe illuminates a simple fact: if the price of oil included the cost of cleaning up after a disaster, there would be no such thing as cheap gasoline.

Warren Senders

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