Like many other cities along the Gulf Coast, those of us in Houston are monitoring carefully the damages that the BP/Transocean oil spill may be causing, not only to our economy but also to our environment. Here in Houston, BP has a strong presence providing thousands of jobs and yet we look to our sister city Galveston with worry that the island, economy and environment may be severely affected by the oil spill, to a place that is still recovering from Hurricane Ike. Both cities and surrounding areas depend on the tourism, entertainment, wildlife and fishing available off of the gulf coast. But many of us worry about the long lasting effects not only of the spill on the environment but also about the not so environmentally friendly actions being taking to clean up the mess.
After attempts to burn it off, releasing harmful toxins and carbon into the air we breathe several other attempts have been made to cap the hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil spilling into our gulf coast waters. Chemicals are being sprayed into the waters to disperse the oil and to keep it from washing ashore, however, there is already shoreline and wildlife damage along the Gulf Coast towns of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana in particular. Plumes of oil spreading out beyond the gulf coast waters are feared to be making their way to Florida and into the Atlantic Ocean, but not only are they spreading, but the plumes can poison and suffocate the fish and wildlife that depend on these waters for life causing damages to the environment for decades. After all, 21 years after the Exxon Valdez disaster, Alaska is still paying the environmental toll.
Are they eco-friendly alternatives to cleaning up the oil “spill?” BP has recently tried a 100 ton dome like structure to trap and collect oil as it gushes into the waters. Although it was created and put into place much sooner than the estimated two weeks British Petroleum estimated it was ineffective at capping the spill after it developed clogging ice crystals in the dome.
At this time BP is using robot submersibles guiding them to put into place a 21 inch wide tube pipe that is designed to guide the gushing oil from the point of origin and lead it to a waiting oil tanker. If successful, it could at least put a method into place to stop the oil spilling into the ocean. However, “top officials in President Barack Obama’s administration cautioned that the tube ‘is not a solution.’
“We will not rest until BP permanently seals the wellhead, the spill is cleaned up, and the communities and natural resources of the Gulf Coast are restored and made whole,” Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in a joint statement.”
But there may be environmentally friendly alternatives to cleaning up the oil spill along the Gulf Coast. People in New Orleans, working in conjunction with the San Francisco based nonprofit organization Matter of Trust are creating oil absorbing mats and tubes using nylon stockings and human, pet, alpaca, and sheep hair, fur and fleece. They are calling for donations from farmers, groomers, and salons. The hair is then stuffed inside the nylon tubes and mats. The tubes alone can collect up to one gallon of oil. While a drop in the bucket to the thousands of gallons released in the gulf, it can make a world of difference along the marshlands and coastlines as a cost effective and environmentally friendly alternative to cleaning up this mess.
Another alternative also researched by Matter of Trust in partnership with Fungi.com is using hair and mushrooms to create hair mats for absorbing oil. The hair absorbs the oil and the mushrooms (fungus) then “eat” the oily hair and detoxify the waste to create landscape grade compost. Another alternative is the use of worms to break down the oils to creating a fertilizer product.
We have heard of skin eating bacteria but did you know of oil eating bacteria? The ocean comes with its own defense mechanism in the form of oil eating natural microorganisms and bacteria. They “eat” the oil and other unwelcome items in their environment. Adding fertilizer products to these micro organisms could cause them to devour the oil at a faster rate, up to five times faster than the naturally occurring process. The downside is that the oil spill would have to get even bigger and encroach upon the beaches along the Gulf Coast and the results could possibly end up working its way up the food chain.
Yet another alternative has been discovered by A Norwegian Company, Kallak Torvstrøfabrikk. Peat moss dons a superhero costume and because the super oil absorbing sponge. Peat doesn’t sink so after absorbing the oil you “scoop” it up. According to Science Daily, Svein Ramstad of SINTEF’s Marine Environment department said the peat moss “was deployed on a geological conservation area near Langesund and at Stavern. The area was heavily contaminated, and particular care needed to be taken. Gravel and stones were mixed with the peat moss and were laid back in their original position, to good effect” (Source: EU Infrastructure).
Let’s face it, you spill a glass of milk, you don’t “spill” thousands of gallons of oil, but now that the disaster is here, maybe some environmentally friendly alternatives for repair and restoration should be considered before the situation gets any worse. Environmentally sound corrections to an environmental disaster should be considered, and hopefully people can start realizing that only through an increased demand for sustainable alternative energies as well as stronger safety standards for the oil production industry can these un-natural disasters be avoided.