Oil Spill Effects
Noted science writer to speak on effects of Gulf oil spill
BEVERLY — Science writer Deborah Cramer of Gloucester made a splash with her 2001 book “Great Waters,” about the marine environment. Now she’s published a second book, “Smithsonian Ocean: Our Water, Our World,” a companion book to the Sant Ocean Hall at the National Museum of Natural History.
So if there’s anyone local who can speak with authority about the effects of the BP oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico, it’s Cramer. She’ll be doing just that Monday, Oct. 18, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. when she visits the Beverly Public Library, 32 Essex St., for a talk titled “The Gulf of Mexico and Beyond: The Legacy of the BP Oil Spill.” Cramer will discuss the combined effects of global warming, Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill on the Louisiana coastline and the Gulf of Mexico. During her talk, she will also show some of the marine photography from “Great Waters.”
Cramer was awarded a science writing fellowship at MIT in 2005-2006 and is currently a visiting scholar at MIT’s Earth System Initiative. We caught up with her for a chat before her library lecture.
How are oil and the ocean connected?
All the oil and gas that we use to heat our homes, fuel our cars, is made from plankton that once lived on the surface of the ocean. So many of the huge sites of oil and natural gas production, for instance in Texas or Saudi Arabia, are old sea floor, old reefs that collected the gas when the plankton died and fell to the bottom. A lot decomposed, but the portion that didn’t was baked at high temperature into oil and natural gas. All of our oil and gas comes from the sea, and because of the huge rate at which we’re burning it, it is altering the ocean. Normally, the carbon and all of that gas would eventually be returned, emitted as continents shift, but we’re speeding up this cycle.
What is the relationship between the Gulf spill and oil consumption?
The oil spill is one aspect of oil production in the Gulf of Mexico. While the spill was about 5 million barrels over a three-month period, in the United States we are burning four times that every day. A third of the oil and gas used in the United States comes from the Gulf of Mexico, and there are major implications from that in the Gulf — not just from the spill, but from production.
Can you mention an example?
The impact on the southeast Louisiana coastal salt marsh, which is already vanishing. The degree to which the oil spill is going to exacerbate that process isn’t known yet — the degree to which the oil washing up will destroy the roots and leaves. I just returned from a trip to Louisiana and the marshes and will be talking about that and showing photographs from my trip. New growth is occurring, but we don’t know the extent of it, and oil is continuing to wash up on the marshes.
The government made some rosy statements about the oil slick dispersing. At the same time, there were reports of oil plumes deep under the surface. What’s your sense of the situation?
There are conflicting narratives. Scientists did find extensive plumes of oil in the deep water. There are scientists who will say 50 percent of the spill is still in the water, where I think the government’s numbers were 25 percent. The government is now doing another assessment.
The spill was much larger than Exxon Valdez, but there have been reports, in a body count of dead animals, that this has not had as devastating an effect as the earlier spill. Can you compare the two?
This was an Exxon Valdez every four days, but the Exxon Valdez spill was in Prince William Sound, while this is a vast area with hundreds of miles of coastline. Not all of the oyster beds and fisheries are reopened, but when I was down there, I ate plenty of seafood that was fine. However, the long-term effect is an ongoing concern. Read more…