Disaster in the Gulf

You no doubt know by now that this nation is facing one of the worst environmental disaters in our history.

An oil platform in the the Gulf of Mexico exploded and then sank, creating a disaterous oil leak. If not for an election in a few weeks here in Oregon, I would probably be writing about it daily. Instead, I have been doing my best to track the story and now have a moment to reflect on what it means for the Gulf Coast and Oregon.

It all started last week, Earth Week no less. 5,000 feet below the surface, what was estimated as a 1,000-barrell-a day-leak quickly rose to 5,000 barrells a day as a sheen of oil inched toward the Gulf Coast. The oil is now creeping toward critically important estuaries and wildlife reserves, destroying important habitat for birds, fish and other species. It won't be long before we see pictures of birds and fish covered in the oil--in fact, the federal government has already signed papers with firms that will lead the effort for the recovery of those animals. Track the spill.

The oil is also quickly moving into some of region's best grounds for shrimp, oysters and other fish that together feed an industry and livelihood that the region's residents depend on. Government agencies declared an emergency fishing season for shrimp so boat owners could get what little they could before the oil touches what is left. BP, the multinational corporation at the center of this disaster, is currently recruiting fisherman and their boats to become part of the recovery fleet.

On-land residents are already smelling the vapors created by the slick and those with respiratory diseases have been told to stay indoors. At sea, responders have tested a variety of methods to collect and disperse the oil before it reaches shore. Aside from coralling and syphoning the oil out of the water with special filters and buoys, BP and the governement have tried burning and using chemical agents to do the job.

At this point, time will decide just how dire this disaster becomes. The companies responsible for the platform and drilling equipment have been unable to shut off an emergency valve that would stop the flow of oil. Short of that, the next options for stopping the flow are weeks and months away. It is probable that this disaster will eclipse the oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969 and it's becoming more and more possible  that it will reach the levels of the Exxon Valdez tanker spill in Alaska. Check out some alarming stats about the spill.

In some ways it is ironic that this is happening as we in Oregon approach our primary election. Four years ago, in the 2006 Primary, now Oregon House Representative Ben Cannon prevailed in a contested primary for the Democratic nomination in his district.

And just two months ago, during Oregon's special  legislative session, Rep. Cannon led the charge to secure a 10-year moratorium on oil and gas drilling off of Oregon's coast, one of the Oregon Conservation Network's three priorities for that short session. That moratorium has been signed into law.

While Oregon leads the West Coast with such a moratorium, the debate about energy is far from over. There will continue to be a corporate push for business as usual when it comes to fossil fuels, even as the direction of the Obama administration on federal drilling seems potentially up for debate in light of this event. But right now, what is clear is that we are facing a massive and tragic breach of our responsibilty to steward the environment. It's worthy of a pause in our lives to consider just that.



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