Needing another reminder of why we need to wean ourselves off of oil? An exploding oil rig spewing black vomit into the Gulf of Mexico and bellowing toxic smoke into our air should be enough. The ironic twist of the oil rig sinking on Earth Day 2010 could be straight from the screenplay of the next summer blockbuster. Tragically, this is a real human and environmental catastrophe.
Past Oil Rig Explosions
Oil rig blowouts are common. An AP report cites a federal Minerals Management Service report as stating state there’s been 858 explosions and fires since 2001. The explosion which sank the state of the art offshore oil rig on Earth Day 2010 was a big one. It was estimated by Rear Adm. Mary Landry of the Coast Guard to be spilling 13,000 gallons per hour according to The New York Times.
One of the best known oil rig explosions was the July 6, 1988 Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea. It was initiated by a gas leak, killing 167 people according to CNN.com. 1990 brought the Barge Cibro Savannah spill with an estimated 200,000 gallons of oil spilled. The cause of this explosion was never determined. The explosion that resulted in the largest spill to date was the Exon I which dumped about 600,000 tons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico according to J.R. McNeil’s environmental history book “Something New Under the Sun.”
Environmental Effects of Oil Rig Explosions
Oil rigs and tankers are subject to spills caused by other incidents other than explosions. These include: running aground-like the infamous Exxon Valdez tanker, collisions with other vessels and icebergs, capsizing due to high winds-as did the Ocean Ranger oil rig in 1982, and terrorist acts like those done by Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War.
Ecological affects linger for decades. They are caused both by the burning off of the oil and any associated spills. Images of birds and marine animals being smothered by oil slicks have made this consequence well known. Animals- and humans- suffer from the accumulation of oil related chemicals in their bodies. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides form when oil burns, and when there are millions of gallons of crude burning, that correlates to a lot of these compounds. Carbonic, sulfuric and nitric acid formation lead to “acid rain”. Volatile organic chemicals (VOC’s) are high in crude oil. Among other problems, VOC’s help form ground level ozone, which is not good for anything living. Crude oil has heavy metals such as cadmium, lead and nickel. Breathing cadmium can lead to lung damage and when in drinking water can damage kidneys. Detailing all environmental harm from oil rig explosions would take an entire book.
Earth Day Sinking, a Pivotal Moment?
Economic effects of the West’s oil dependency are known. No method of energy production and storage is benign, but those associated with oil are perhaps the worst. The plunging of the oil rig on Earth Day is equity for those pushing for cleaner energy production and storage. With all the problems of oil, who needs climate change for motivation to change our ways? Environmentalists should take this opportunity to discuss all the issues surrounding fossil fuels. This could be a pivotal event that helps turns Earth day into every day.
NY Times on Earth Day sinking: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/23/us/23rig.html