My latest work

An article in The Ecologist concerning dispersants: Toxic dispersants in Gulf oil spill creating hidden marine crisis.

See Jane Do did a profile on me concerning my work in the Gulf.

Putting This New Phase of the Oil Spill into Context

-originally posted on The Recovery Room 6 August 2010

An August 4 New York Times article entitled US Finds Most Oil From Spill Poses Little Additional Risk, clearly leads us to believe that only 26% of the officially estimated 4.9 million barrels (one barrel equals 42 gallons so that’s 205.8 million gallons) of oil spilled into the gulf is still at large.

There is a handy graphic that is based on the findings of a government. Lets breakit down. NYT graphic.gifThe first glaring thing is the neatness of these numbers. Removed 25%, evaporated or dissolved 25%, dispersed 24%, and still at sea or on shore 26%. How conveniently round they are.

So, starting from the top, the gray portion that represents oil physically removed from the Gulf adds up to 25%. Fair enough. They may have had their shit together enough to capture 35 million gallons of oil as it spurted up the straw they managed to insert into the well 45 days after it began. Sucking oil out of the planet is their business after all. In-situ burn operations account for the removal 10.26 million gallons. That means that 85,470 US tons of carbon dioxide were released into the atmosphere while the 830 skimmer vessels have only managed to remove an additional 6.2 million gallons. The skimmers likely used more oil than they cleaned up in the process of motoring around in the gulf thus adding that much more carbon dioxide to the mix. Prognosis thus far: rosy.

The evaporated or dissolved portion is where things start to get fuzzy. These shifts in physical state result in two very different outcomes although neither is positive. Lets say that 25% did indeed evaporate. That means that there are now 54.45 million more gallons worth of volatilized petroleum derivatives, toxic and otherwise, floating around in our atmosphere. That’s the better of the two scenarios. The second is that the 54.45 million gallons dissolved into the marine environment. When you dissolve salt into water is it gone? I think not. The oil has not disappeared just because it may have changed forms. It is still lurking in the environment. The reality is that a combination of evaporation and dissolution has happened and I highly doubt that both of them together could have displaced that much of the mess.

Moving along, 24% of the oil is thought to have been dispersed. I do believe that. A fair amount of the oil was definitely naturally broken up into small droplets as it spewed out of the wellhead under immense pressure from the oil reserve below and the miles of seawater above. If this graphic is correct, chemical dispersants had an effect on 8% of the oil spilled. The two million gallons of toxic Corexit that were added to the already devastated ecosystem was only effective on 8% of the oil? You mean to tell me that we’ve turned the Gulf of Mexico into a colossal science experiment for a chemical that is only effective at an 8:1 ratio? Totally worth taking a two-dimensional problem that we know how to fix and turning it into a three-dimensional problem that is out of our realm of capabilities to rectify.

So let’s get this straight here. If 205.8 million gallons came out of the well, 53.5 million gallons are at large in their crude form, 49.39 million were dispersed, 51.45 million gallons has evaporated or dissolved, and another 51.45 million have been physically removed then how much is left in the Gulf? The Merriam-Webster definition of dispersed is, “distributed or spread over a wide area.” It doesn’t mean removed. Those millions of gallons, the equivalent of 78 Olympic sized swimming pools worth of oil are spread throughout the water column. Let’s say that of the evaporated and dissolved portion, half of it actually dissolved. That’s another 39 swimming pools worth in the water and the rest in the atmosphere with the myriad tons of carbon dioxide released through burning and the motoring of response vehicles. By my rationale, at least 63% of the oil is still out there. That’s 129.7 million gallons of Southern Louisiana crude oil adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. It makes me sleep soundly in the wee hours of the night to know that our government officials say that 192 swimming pools worth of oil “pose little additional risk.”

For more info relating to the Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem and its wildlife see my newest AlterNet piece,
Just how badly have we screwed up the Gulf ecosystem?



Celebrating 100 Days of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

– originally published on “The Recovery Room” 28 July 2010

An interview I did last Saturday with Jesse Locks of “See Jane Do” is going to air tonight on KVMR at 630pm PST. Sorry for the short notice! We talked about my experience in Louisiana as well as what’s happening now. I will also be featured in the “Extraordinary Jane” column which will run on Sunday in the Nevada City/Grass Valley paper The Union. If you miss the broadcast tonight you might be able to find it on the See Jane Do website at some point in the near future.

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Gulf Ecosystem Damaged By Gushing Oil: we need to create solutions

-originally posted on The Recovery Room 20 July 2010

I’m posting this through tears. Drew Wheelan’s latest video highlights the importance of keeping this disaster in the forefront of our attention until it’s cleaned up and we’ve created a whole new body of oil industry related regulations.

Dispersing Devestation

-originally posted on The Recovery Room 20 July 2010

I’ve finally succeeded in getting one of my articles published with a news organization. AlterNet has been kind enough to run this piece, Disaster on a Small Scale: How the Gulf Spill’s Devastation Works Its Way From Plankton to Pelicans. I’m currently working on another story for them that is slated to come out some time in the first week of August. I guess I’ve chosen the role of “journalist from afar” at this point but there are still some possibilities in the works of me getting back down to the Gulf.

Many of you may be aware that a cap has been placed on the severed wellhead. Not to diminish the positive nature of this development, but there are some major problems that may or may not be stemming from the pressure build up caused by the cap. The sea floor is showing signs of instability and seeps emanating from near the site have been linked to the pressure problem as well. Even if the flow is completely stopped with this maneuver, we still have somewhere around 100 million gallons of oil, 1.8 million gallons of dispersant , and the continuation of sub par oiled wildlife response efforts wreaking havoc on the ecosystem.

There are several toxic components to both crude oil and the dispersants being applied to the spill. When these components are combined, their synergistic effects are an order of magnitude more toxic than they ever were by themselves. One of the most important thing that we can do at this point is to put a stop to the use of dispersants in this disaster and to create a precedent that leads to a complete ban on future use of dispersants.

What HAS she been doing?

– originally published on “The Recovery Room” 12 July 2010

Long overdue progress update. What a bad blogger I am. I do have a few good excuses though. I know, I know, excuses are like @$%holes, everybody has one. Here they are anyway.

Good Excuse #1: I’ve been feverishly working on full-length articles and query letters pertaining to various oil spill topics that stemmed directly from my visit to Louisiana. I haven’t been feeding them to my trusty blog because many news agencies don’t like recycled material. Alternative news agencies (The Huffington Post, AlterNet, Slate, Salon.com, and The Nation) are my target publications because, in the words of The Big Lebowski cowboy, “I like your [their] style Dude.” I’m hoping that they’ll dig mine too and we can help each other out. I love my blog due to the unedited free reign and I especially love all of you whom legitimize all of the time I spend on this mania but the traffic is sparse. I have information that I think is important to a wider audience than just friends and family. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not excluding my most faithful readers. I have every intention of posting links to articles published elsewhere. You’ll be the first to know! I would pitch to conservation organizations but preaching to the choir just isn’t getting enough done. The vast majority of folks that visit those types of publications are already aware and doing what they can. My aim is to reach out to a greater swathe of the public and inform them of the choices, responsibilities, treasures, and trash heaps that lie beyond the scope of mass media journalism.

Good Excuse #2: As for my three work options on the Gulf Coast…things got complicated. Option 1 was to return as a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries employee. I declined that post citing the desire to pursue option 2. Option 2 was to work on a bird radio telemetry project with Entrix. My last phone conversation with the human resources person at Entrix lead me to believe that they were “99.9% percent certain that they would like to hire me for that project.” After leaving three phone messages and as many e-mailings since we last spoke, I’m starting to wonder what he was basing that 99.9% on. That percentage seems to have inverted as I am left with no stable work opportunities on the Gulf Coast. Option 3 was to return as a freelance journalist. This option is complicated by the lack of finances as well as safety issues.

While I’ve been trying to figure out this whole “real job” thing I’ve been wrestling with some other issues as well. The main one is of personal safety. A few people that I know who have been covering the scene in Louisiana continuously have fallen ill. Various respiratory aliments have caused them to take leaves of absence from the Gulf Coast and have drastically slowed the pace of their work. Upon researching the probable cause of these ailments, oil dispersants pop out of the past in electric neon. Spills as far back as the IXTOC-I near Vera Cruz, Mexico in 1979 have had the same track record for dispersant linked human illness. Studies from the Exxon Valdez spill point definitively to dispersant ingredients in long-term illnesses of many clean-up workers. Dispersants are one of the subjects that have been keeping me busy for the past few weeks. More to come on Corexit, its nefarious past and present, and how we can change its course into the future. You can also expect to see more about birds, turtles, wildlife transloactions, migration, erosion, and a few other tricks I have up my sleeve. I’ll keep you all posted on any publications that arise. Many thanks, Nicole.

Life Is What Happens When…

– originally published on “The Recovery Room” 25 June 2010

My apologies for the extended absence. Much busyness has been afoot. First, I want to touch base with the original goals of my mission down to the Gulf Coast. Then I’ll give an update about what I’m in for next. For those of you who have been following and contributing to my shenanigans from the beginning of this disaster, I would like to explain how I’ve been fulfilling my end of the bargain. Originally, I had thought that I would have a similar role in this spill as I did in the Cosco Busan spill that happened in the San Francisco Bay in 2007. With years of bird handling experience I showed up at the Crodelia, California facility and was immediately accepted as one of boom4sale.jpgthe International Bird Rescue Research Center’s (IBRRC) volunteer bird washers. It was hands-on and hard work and it was what I could do to help. This spill, however, is a completely different animal – in many ways.

One of the main differences, in terms of how the response is being run, is that wildlife experts are not being utilized to the extent that they have been in other spills. This travesty is serving to exacerbate two sizable problems. 1) The natural dimension: the ecosystem is suffering from not just the toxin-laden waters but also from the lack of expertise present in the overall response effort. Under qualified workers are causing some problems in the midst of their well intentioned toiling. 2) The human dimension: this is a heartbreaking situation and people feel even more helpless when they know that an army of ready and highly trained workers are still, on day 65 of this disaster, waiting in the wings to be called upon. Don’t get me wrong. I know first hand that the people who ARE working on the wildlife response effort are learning quickly and doing the very best they can under the circumstances. Their efforts and intentions are greatly appreciated but the folks in charge are sadly missing the boat on getting experts involved.

This is why my role turned out to be something completely different than I had originally reported in my blog. Only after being in Louisiana for four or five days, traipsing all over the state, and talking to nearly a hundred people did I realized that I would not be able to set hands on any birds to recover them to their non-oiled selves. At this point I was forced to divert to plan B. That consisted of operating mainly as a journalist while still trying to help out in any biological way that I was able. I can be a slow learner at times, or perhaps I was clinging steadfastly and stubbornly to hopes of achieving plan A.

Being lumped into the “media” category was an educational situation to say the least. I have great respect for journalists that dig deep and get interesting angles on situations, but I realized after several days of being a press monkey, that most of the media coverage was pretty surface level. Why you ask? Because, through no fault of their own, a large percentage of the journalists there didn’t have the background to make a valid, in-depth analysis of the natural dimension of the disaster. This becomes painfully apparent if one spends a little time casting about in the mass media coverage of the spill. It’s a lot of the same information repeated over and over. There are a handful of individuals doing really great things but for the most part the coverage subject matter is pretty obvious.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I ended up volunteering as a scientific observer on several boats. The object of my presence on these boats was to search for and identify oiled birds on the myriad islands in the waters surrounding Grand Isle, LA. That was pretty much the extent of the biology that I was able to be of help with on that trip.

Since my return home I’ve been wrestling with three work possibilities concerning my return to the Gulf Coast:

1) Working for Louisiana State Department of Wildlife and Fisheries as a crew leader based out of Grand Isle. If you’re not familiar with the location, it’s where all of the worst oil footage and photos are coming from. Pretty much the front line.

2) Working on a bird (pelican I’m assuming) radio telemetry project with Entrix, the environmental consulting firm that has been hired to do the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) for the entire spill. This document will be the main science that dictates the ecosystem restoration and recovery effort.

3) Heading back down as a freelance journalist and biological volunteer to get the word out and do what I can, where I can. Pretty much the same sort of thing that I was doing on my initial visit but this time with a network of people and knowledge backing me up.

I’m still working out the details of this difficult and complicated decision. The matter is definitely open for discussion on here or via e-mail so fire away. I should know more within the next few days and will alert my readers as soon as possible to my next move. Many thanks for reading!