Manifesto for the Gulf Spill

The magnitude of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico should be a catalyst for changing how we impact the environment and our use of oil. Here are a few of the needed steps we MUST try if we are to kick our addiction to oil and mitigate the ecological damage the oil is causing.

In no particular order:


We can mitigate some of the damage of the oil plumes by dealing with the Gulf dead zone caused by the runoff of fertilizers into the Mississippi River. Fixing the dead zone is easier and cheaper then cleaning up the oil.

Nutrient and Sediment Loading of the Mississippi River

Yeah, the farm lobby will howl, but the fix is simple and cheap – vegetated buffers on all tributaries to the Mississippi can significantly cut nutrient loading. Viola! no more hypoxia in gulf due to farm/lawn runoff. Okay, urban runoff is also a problem, but not the same order of magnitude.

Nutrient Control Actions for Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico


These wetlands are the nursery of the ecological abundance of the gulf, and protect the shore from storms. Their loss has been caused by a wide range of human activities including the channelization of the Mississippi & the loss of getting new sediment, the creation of canals for oil and gas exploitation and transportation, and pollution.

The easy fixes are to close obsolete channels like the MRGO to prevent currents from eroding the fragile wetland soils. Removing levees and floodwalls brings a range of risks and is controversial.

Rebuilding wetlands is complex and costly. This requires lots of sediments and soil to be dredged and deposited where needed. Then the plants must be established (if the conditions are right).

Coastal Louisina Multiple Line of Defence home


enough damage is being done by the oil!

Adding a less toxic substance to the oil doesn’t reduce the overall toxicity – it increases the overall toxic environmental load. BP MUST STOP using a toxic brew to disburse the oil into microscopic particles that become even more toxic to marine life. Spraying oil eating microbes on the slick and on contaminated shorelines is one thing – but spraying detergents and solvents is making the problem worse…

…COREXIT® EC9527A and COREXIT 9500 made by the Nalco Company in Naperville, Illinois. Both products contain 10-30% sulfonic acid salt (detergent) and 1-5% propylene glycol, which are regarded as non-hazardous substances. In addition, COREXIT EC9527A contains between 30-60% of 2-butoxyethanol (solvent) and COREXIT 9500 contains between 10-30% of petroleum distillates (solvent).CDC

NOAA makes it seem that dispersants are magic potions that have no toxicity or lingering impacts to the environment (but their page was last updated in 2008).

What this image shows is the effects of dispersants on the surface – a very different environment then the deep ocean. At the surface, there is light and a higher level of dissolved oxygen due to interactions of the waves and air. So even as the oxygen is depleted by the microbes consuming the oil, it is slowly replenished. In the deep ocean, there is no light and few sources of oxygen to replenish what the microbes consume.

The use of dispersants in deep water seems to be creating a long lasting anoxic zone that will be deadly to most aquatic life! BP should be held liable for this massive catastrophic destruction of the the deep ocean.

PROTECT THE HEALTH OF THE CLEANUP WORKERS (and other folks near the oil spill)

Tyvek jump suits (and respirators when they are issued) aren’t enough. Crude oil contains many hazardous chemicals (like benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) that requires stringent safety precautions to avoid longterm health problems. It’s not just the fish and birds that are going to die – BP has already shown a lack of regard for the safety and health of their workers. The clean up workforce needs to be properly trained, directed and supervised by a third party who place the environment and human health first. This is a significant justification for placing BP into receivership. While it makes business sense to limit the liability of worker safety, BP has a history of decades of abuse and negligence that has killed dozens of people and injured even more.

Department of Health and Human Services Oil Spill Page

The CDC’s page on oil spill response worker safety


Eliminate all subsidize from the carbon extraction industries and shifts them to alternate energy research and development!

The congress is making steps in this direction, but we need more leadership from Obama. The leading environmental economists and climate scientists agree that a carbon tax is the best and only effective method to reduce demand and shift the economy to non-carbon sources of energy.

the carbon tax center

James Hansen’s ‘Only a carbon tax… can save us’:

An honest effective approach to energy and climate must place a steadily rising price on carbon emissions. It can only be effective if it is a simple flat fee on all carbon fuels, collected from fossil fuel companies on the first sale, at the mine, wellhead or port of entry.

The fee will cause energy costs to rise, for fossil fuels, not all energies. The public will allow this fee to rise to the levels needed only if the money collected is given to the public. They will need the money to adapt their lifestyles and reduce their carbon footprint. The money, all of it, should be given as a monthly “green cheque” and possibly in part as an income-tax reduction. Each legal adult resident would get an equal share, easily delivered electronically to bank accounts or debit cards, with half a share for children up to two children per family


Photo from Stephen John Hibbs. Dead dolphin on the beach at the Gulf.

International law needs to be updated to allow the persecution of individuals, companies, and governments who through negligence, malfeasance, or war intentionally destroy the environment and injure or kill people in the process. The Deepwater Horizon incident was completely avoidable and seems to be caused by willful negligence and greed by BP and a fitting precedent for establishing Crimes Against the Planet persecution.

The oil industry is central in many similar examples of willful and needless destruction:

Other disasters that should be considered Crimes against the Planet:

  • The Bhopal disaster by Union Carbide

The coal ash spill by Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman, Tennessee

  • Chernobyl
  • The dessication of the Aral Sea
  • The use of Agent Orange in Vietnam

10 worst environmental-disasters


EPA’s environmental crime page

interpol’s Environmental Crime page


This should be a no-brainer. Here are the most significant actions we can take to reduce the use of oil:

Drive Smarter & Drive Less

Hypermiling, car pooling, using public transit are paths to reducing our dependency on oil. We are responsible for the spill as much a BP with our addiction to oil. So start taking responsibility by using less gas by driving smarter and less. Upgrading to an electric vehicle isn’t practical for most folks, so start driving like a prius owner instead. Gentle acceleration and breaking, moderate speeds, proper inflation of your tires, and a clean air filter can improve your MPG.

To truly reduce our dependency on gasoline powered private vehicles, there are two options on the horizon: alternate fuels including electricity, and/or redesigning our cities and suburbs around transit – but this is a topic for another day.

Avoid buying and using plastics

The industrial sector is using lots of oil as a raw material and for process energy – and most folks reading this can’t do much about this beyond avoiding plastics. Most plastic resins are derived from oil. The alternatives are the new bio-resins made from corn starch. But plastics are ubiquitous and almost impossible to avoid – even in the supermarket. There has been a huge shift in using reusable shopping bags – so why can’t we expand this effort to all sorts of packaging? Considering that much of the plastic we dispose of ends up in our oceans – this can help shrink the great pacific garbage patch


We Need More Efficient Furnaces

At home, there is a significant amount of oil used for heating. While oil is being replaced in many municipalities by natural gas, gas exploration and extraction is just as environmentally damaging as oil drilling. The main advantage of gas is that it creates fewer greenhouse gases when burned and fewer particulates too. But it is expensive to replace an oil furnace with a gas furnace – so most folks won’t take that step. However, the usual energy conservation steps of lowering the thermostat, weatherization, and only heating rooms that are being used can reduce the use of heating oil (and save $$$ too)

Winning The Oil endgame


policy and regulations must protect ecosystem services that are more valuable then crude oil

Clean air, clean water, flood control, food for us and critters are just a few of the ecosystem services provided by the marshes of the Gulf. But there has been over century of abuse to extract the oil and sulfur, along with expediting boats that have eroded and degraded these wetlands. We now have the economic tools to quantify the cost to replace these services performed for free by our ecosystems – but policy makers don’t seem to understand or know about the implications. Ecosystem services must be included in all major policies and legislation that impacts the natural world – that includes agriculture, energy, transportation, land-use, defense, and health.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment


As the users of oil, each of us is partially responsible. Other then using less oil (or even kicking the habit completely), here are a few organizations trying to clean up the Gulf and dealing with the aftermath that need your help (from planet green):

  • People interested in volunteering in Alabama can call the Alabama Coastal Foundation at 251-990-6002; the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program at 251-431-6409; or Mobile Baykeeper at 251-433-4229.
  • The International Bird Rescue Research Center is also heading to the Gulf coast to help. “To report oiled wildlife affected by the Gulf oil spill please call the Wildlife reporting hotline at 1-866-557-1401. IBRRC has been receiving an outpouring of support and phone calls from people wishing to volunteer to help at the Gulf Oil Spill. To learn how to help, you must contact the BP Community Support Team Hotline at 1-866-448-581
  • The Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary is asking for volunteers to sign up to be a volunteer. They are asking for items donated they plan to use cleanup wild birds once they get the call.
  • The Alabama Rivers Alliance writes: “If you are interested in volunteering to reduce the impacts of the oil spill to our Bay, please call the Mobile Bay National Estuary office at 251-431-6409 or e-mail with the following information: name, address, phone, e-mail, resources (ex. boat or kayak)”.

NOAA shares the following links for the clean up in the Gulf:

  • For response-related inquiries, please phone the Joint Information Center (JIC) at 985.902.5231 or 985.902.5240.
  • To report oil on land, or for general community information, please phone 866.448.5816.
  • To report oiled or injured wildlife, please phone 866.557.1401.
  • To learn about volunteer opportunities in all areas and what training is required, please phone 866.448.5816.
  • To discuss spill related damage claims, please phone 800.440.0858.
  • BP is asking fishermen for their assistance in cleaning up the oil spill. BP is calling this the Vessel of Opportunities Program and through it, BP is looking to contract shrimp boats, oyster boats and other vessels for hire to deploy boom in the Gulf of Mexico. To learn more about the Vessel of Opportunity Program, fishermen should phone 281.366.5511.

Other resources and groups that are helping the Gulf:

Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana

Environmental Defense Fund

Natural Resources Defence Council

American Society of Landscape Architects

3 thoughts on “Manifesto for the Gulf Spill

  1. Thank you, Barry, for this lucid and comprehensive outline. Is there a link via Facebook? Because I will send it to everyone. Great job!

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