There’s only one species of wildlife that the massive Gulf of Mexico
oil spill could finally kill off.
It’s not a dolphin, turtle or a
pelican unable to tell oil-black from blue.
No, they’ve been remarkably unscathed
by what President Barack Obama excitedly called “the worst environmental
disaster America has ever faced”.
The species that’s really
endangered is another denizen of the deep forest or concreted jungle – the
Once again we see yet another
colossal, terrifying and unprecedented environmental holocaust collapse into
one more green beat-up.
We should have seen this coming.
Oil may be the ultimate symbol of wicked capitalist excess, but it’s actually a
natural substance, and it shouldn’t be surprising that nature has learned to
cope with the occasional spill.
Nor, after so many fake scares on
spills, should we have been such suckers for another.
Remember the Exxon Valdez spill of
1989, which greens turned into the iconic indictment of the oil economy?
Ten years on, researchers from
American universities, research groups and government reviewed all the studies
and concluded the spill hadn’t caused real long-term damage, even on the
supposedly worst-hit species.
“They demonstrated that earlier
suggestions of negative impacts may have been unfounded (harbour seals) or that
the species either exhibited no obvious detrimental effects of the spill (pink
salmon population runs, population density and habit occupancy of half the 23
seabirds examined) or indicated impacts followed by clear evidence of
subsequent recovery (sea otters, the remaining seabird species).”
The report warned people to check
the claims of activists against the facts, “divorced from advocacy positions”.
But who listened? So when the Pacific Emperor leaked 270 tonnes of oil into
Moreton Bay last year we were once more drowned in more hype than oil.
This was “the worst environment
disaster Queensland has faced”, wailed Queensland Premier Anna Bligh.
In fact, the total known loss of
wildlife comprised a single sea snake, one little tern and one petrel.
But again we failed to heed the
lesson, so when a BP rig in the Gulf of Mexico blew three months ago, we again
fell for green screams of doom.
ABC and SBS television seem awed by
this “disaster in the Gulf”, presented as more of a disaster to birds than to
the 11 workers killed in the explosion.
Yet what do we find, three months
later? For all the horror stories, the toll of animals found dead so far is
1296 birds, 17 turtles and three dolphins –
1 per cent of the animals killed by
the Exxon Valdez – and just 140ha of marshes have been oiled, when Louisiana
loses 6000ha a year already.
In fact, much of the oil from this
now-stemmed spill has already disappeared.
Some has been cleaned up from the
shore, but Dr Jeffrey Short, who worked for the US Government on the Exxon
Valdez spill and is now with the environmental group Oceania, estimates 40 per
cent of the oil evaporated once it reached the surface.
Prof Geoffrey Maitland, an energy engineer
of Britain’s Imperial College, says microbes are feeding on the rest: “Many
people do not realise that oil is a naturally occurring substance and nature
has a way of dealing with it.”
Simon Boxall, a marine pollution
expert of Southampton University’s National Oceanography Centre, says the Gulf
spill was just the equivalent of a drop in an Olympic-size pool anyway, and
“for all but a tiny bit of the Gulf , it will be back to normal within a year”.
Just in time for the next green