May 28th, 2010
11:28 AM ET

The Gulf's silent environmental crisis

John D. Sutter

On the Gulf of Mexico (CNN) - Ten miles off the coast of Louisiana, where the air tastes like gasoline and the ocean looks like brownie batter, Louisiana State University professor Ed Overton leans out of a fishing boat and dunks a small jar beneath the surface of the oil-covered water.

"God, what a mess," he says under his breath, scooping up a canister of the oil that's been spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.

Even though Overton has been studying oil spills for 30 years, he's not sure what he'll find in that sample. That's because, just below the surface, the scope and impact of one of the biggest environmental disasters in the history of the U.S. remains a mystery.

And that terrifies some scientists.

It's been five weeks since an oil rig exploded and sank, rupturing a pipeline 5,000 feet beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Some clues about what so much oil - perhaps 22 million gallons of it - will do to the environment have become obvious:

Dolphins have washed up dead. Endangered sea turtles have been found with oil stuck on their corneas. Lifeless brown pelicans, classified as endangered until recently, have been carried away in plastic bags. Beaches in Grand Isle, Louisiana, are spattered with gobs of sticky crude. And when the moon rises over the coast there, the oil-soaked ocean sparkles like cellophane under a spotlight.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Gulf Oil Spill • T1
soundoff (78 Responses)
  1. Marian on the Mississippi River


    BP is not the only entity with remote (ROV) units with robotic arms and cutting capability and Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicles (DSRV) with a maximum capability of 5,000 feet.

    Last week, a documentary aired saying in August, 2005, two U.S. Navy Super Scorpio units and a British Navy Scorpio were sent to rescue a Russian minisub. The Britsh unit arrived first, successfully cut the cables holding the Russian minisub and rescued the sailors.

    Are we using our U.S. Navy deep sea units, divers and equipment to help with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill?

    Thank you for your outstanding coverage of this disaster.

    June 1, 2010 at 8:55 am |
  2. Trevey

    I don't understand why the travesty occurring in the gulf is not more front and center in the news. It's a crime what we've let big oil do to this country. It's a crime what our government's reaction has been to this. It's like we're all standing on the titatnic and looking at iceberg. BP should be made to pay not only for the lives of Americans that have been ruined, but also to restore the wetlands and environment at some point. BP should never be allowed to drill for oil again around the US shores. Oh – and now maybe the politicians will see that there are some things worth more than money and ban any further drilling. I don't understand that for a country and oil companies so advanced, there are no proven safeguards that could have minimized this. People should show thier digust and boycott BP – refuse their products. Maybe that's the only way to pay them back. As far as I'm concerned, the BP execs should get their own bath in crude so they too can experience the misery our precious gulf is experiencing. We need to stand up and demand more from our government and big oil – it's our country and land and resources – time for people to take control.

    June 1, 2010 at 6:44 am |
  3. Jeff

    Would it not be true justice to see BP officials coated with toxic oil instead of poor defenseless animals, just kidding I guess but in the end game of this environmental disaster how criminal and corrupt will this turn out to be. Plain and simple disgusting and very pathetic.

    June 1, 2010 at 2:34 am |
  4. Justin

    I am an engineer who has sent the BP support email address for this disaster and the White House email address 2 different designs which I believe could aid in or stop the flow of oil from wellheads such as these. I believe in these designs so much I have filed utility patents on them. I have not heard from BP or the White House regarding the implementation of this technology.

    A basic pipe flow equation relating the crimped, assumed to be restricting the flow of effluent, and the cylindrical section of pipe will show an increase in the speed of flow of a fluid when the area is decreased. Assuming the crimp is 5 inches tall and wider than the diameter, assume circumference of pipe material is fixed, then the area of the cylindrical section is 2.7 times that of the crimped section. I'm not a fluid dynamicist. The flow of a thicker fluid (crude oil) will behave differently than that of a thinner fluid (water) under the same conditions. Turbulence, among other frictional forces, would be encountered slowing flow at the crimp. As a result, it is rational to assume that the flow of oil is slowing through the crimped section. Thus, it is logical to assume that the flow of oil unimpeded by the crimp would allow the flow to increase greater than 10% of the current rate. Possibly doubling it?

    Can we as a country just sit idly by and let those with absolute power make irrational decisions, neglecting possible technical advances, which will affect everyone?

    How are the plumes of oil, assumed to be created by chemical dispersants, below the surface going to be removed?

    Why didn’t the federal government pass immediate law placing them as the head of the effort, additionally seizing BP’s bank accounts to pay for this?

    As a Gulf Coast resident of more than 30 years this disturbs me, not only as a resident, but as a professional.

    Justin Cutts, BSME, MSE (naval architecture)

    May 31, 2010 at 11:04 pm |
  5. Bonnie

    How interesting….

    Bobby Jindal, who is anti-government, small government, loyal servant of the oil industry now wants “Big” government to rush in and save his state, its people and its wildlife from those to whom he owes his career and future.

    Maybe Bobby should have gotten on board and grabbed some of the future …some of the green jobs building wind, solar and other alternative power that other governors were wise enough to court.

    He’s young …young enough to understand that an antiquated infrastructure and energy model perhaps represents something of a threat to his state and his country at large, especially in light of the fact that any major hurricane could have produced exactly this disaster.

    Frankly, the U.S. has been playing Russian Roulette for years and guess what …there’s always a bullet in the chamber. This is ours but by God…. let’s have a few more catastrophes before we get the clue that regulation and common sense is our only answer!

    One would think that the economic disaster, the mortgage meltdown, the bank and auto industry failures, the stock market hitting the skids and so on would be enough to change Bobby’s tune. One might think that this unbelievable carnage to his state might do it.

    It won’t.

    May 31, 2010 at 10:54 pm |
  6. Blanche

    Inquiring minds want to know

    It was said earlier in the week, lets stop the blame game, and find a solution, well it is now more than a month, and who is being blame for letting an oil rig that close to your shores, is it the Governor after all isn't he responsible for what happen under his watch and in his city? No it is the "President" for acting slow, but who is the actual blame, for letting this happen in the beginning, "would someone finally tell the American People, "who gave them permission to drill the oil in the first place, if the President didn't know this was happening, then who did?

    May 31, 2010 at 10:47 pm |
  7. Martyn Belmont

    Whoa Anderson,
    I understand the frustration and complete disgust with this oil spill, but before you blame the President, think about the politics in Louisiana. Many of us do not want off shore drilling, but guess what, Louisiana loves it, wants it and has totally encouraged it. It is a major part of their economics.
    I love James Carville, but President Obama is not responsible for this spill. He is not responsible for the permit allowing BP to drill there. He is not responsible for the clean up, as BP told the world that they had the whole thing under control. President Obama is a constitutional lawyer, not a petroleum engineer, an oil rigger or a member of BP, Chevron, Trans Ocean or Halliburton. And, he did not pick the totally corrupt people at this government agency who issued the permits, slept with the lobbyists, or accepted unacceptable gifts.

    Let's get the politics out of this. Why don't you( and the news media) get the politics out of this? Let's help solve this, without an agenda

    May 31, 2010 at 10:41 pm |
  8. David

    Why isn't PRP (Petroleum Remediation Product ) being used or even tested? It is supposedly a biodegradable way to clean up an oil spill!

    May 31, 2010 at 10:38 pm |
  9. m.a. bunch

    As a woman, I have watched the ability of "personal" products for women improve their ability to "absorb" fluids. Is it possible that a Johnson and Johnson or other major manufacturer could make a "GIANT" sized pad, that could have been layed against the "spill"?. We need , something, that can suck up the oil, are we looking everywhere, and are we asking the Captains and Kings of American Industry if they have an idea. The U.S. in amazing for it's resources, but are "we" asking....everyone, to step up and help. Save one of my favorite areas, save the natural habitat, and save the jobs of so...sooo, soooo many hard working U.S. citizens!!

    May 31, 2010 at 10:20 pm |
  10. GingerWarren

    We's been had by a foreign company!
    Guess we let BP cover up their criminal mess!
    I guess America has been defeated afterall? Tsk Tsk Tsk! Why should anyone care if the President and his Cabinet don't!

    May 31, 2010 at 10:19 pm |
  11. GingerWarren

    I betcha that the media and the government and the oil elites knew what would happen with this oil spill when they met at the White House Correspondent's Dinner. When was that? April 30???
    Everyone knew and no one cared. One day people will find out the truth!

    May 31, 2010 at 10:12 pm |
  12. dr. arlett malvo

    It is my belief that the oil spill was a plan and intentionally done. The question is who would benefit by a disaster such as this and who would be negatively affected by this situation. Every industry within the United States is affected by this disaster and I have reason to believe that other countries are benefiting from this spill. The main question is why would the U.S. allow foreign countries to come in and take our resources, refine it and sell the manufactured product back to us? Why would we allow them to construct a structure without a plan to prevent or control a disaster? We have outsourced most of our manufacture industry and now we are giving away our resources. Have we really loss our engineering capability to do it our self? Look like we will have to start buying some product from other countries. I see China, Korea, Europe and other foreign countries profiting from this disaster. Was this a plan with the pass administration? B.P. claim that they cannot stop the leak because of the deep (one mile down) the last question is, how did they drill it?


    May 31, 2010 at 9:46 pm |
  13. david

    To contain spill and avoid sub surface oil drift, perhaps a network of drain pipe 48 to 60 inches in diameter could be assembled and lowered to encompass oil gush, much like how a water well casing works. It would take about 2500 20 foot sections. This would contain the oil in a column util it reaches the surface where it could be removed to a tanker. At least all the oil would be in one spot. In addition, regarding the junk shot. If a variety of the items used were put into a Kevlar netting first, they might stand a good chance of flowing to the largest leak as a unit and refuce or eliminate the oil output.

    May 31, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
  14. Margie C

    Mr. Cooper, TY for all your coverage of this disaster in our Gulf. Why haven't super tankers been brought in to suck up the oil at the gusher site before it gets to the beaches & marsh areas? Has dispersant been allowed in other spills around the world, like the mid – east etc.? Besides the off-shore burning, where is the oil being scooped into bags on the beach, as well as oiled birds, etc. being disposed of? I've heard it is going into a landfill area that is supposedly lined but in an area that could be flooded by a tidal surge during a hurricane. Is it really most efficient (or just show by BP) to have numerous people with shovels on flat beaches scooping up oil one shovel full at a time (& putting it in plastic bags, why add plastic bags to the mix being disposed of???) when the temp is in the 90's? Why not use equipment with scoops on the front? Why don't we see people in boats sucking up the oil along the marsh lands & rocky areas? Every time we see pictures of thick oil sludge lapping onto these areas there is no one around trying to do any clean up.
    The head of BP has said they are going to set up "Tent Cities" for workers...is that really humane in our Gulf's summer temps? Why doesn't BP put everyone up in hotels/motels & give them the business they have been losing because of this gusher?

    May 31, 2010 at 3:15 pm |
  15. James Norman

    Mr. Cooper,
    As a NOLA resident I would like to thank you for your involvement and honest reporting on the oil spill. In my view the federal government is not acting properly to address this "Katrina 2" disaster.

    I have the following technical question for you , which I feel you may be able to answer (or ask in you program)

    They (BP) say that pumping mud into the well stops the leak for a period of time and the mud is a nontoxic substance.

    Question: Why can't they keep pumping mud in between attempts
    to seal the well?

    A second issue is this : we are all worried here about Lake Pontchartrain. With any stronger wind the water level raises more then 15ft in the lake, and the oil pollution may be easily pushed in. Nobody seems to have any serious contingency plan for this scenario.

    All the best,

    Thanks in advance,

    May 31, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
  16. Susan

    This is very sad for everyone. I cannot see how this will not affect the coast for many years to come.

    When they decide to eventually clean up the soil where are they going to put it? Spreading out the toxic waste will effect more lives than around the coast.

    I am appalled at the slow response to this disaster. I would have to agree with the people of Louisiana. Having suffered through the Katrina disaster and now this also, has to feel overwhelming.

    May 31, 2010 at 11:04 am |
  17. Scott Lenhart

    I have a question about the BP oil spill in the Gulf: If the oil floating on the surface kills the phytoplankton and half of our oxygen supply comes from phytoplankton, could this spill somehow threaten the composition of the Earth's atmosphere?

    May 31, 2010 at 10:50 am |
  18. sally

    Anderson, for me its very sad that many oil spills in Africa never got such coverage. Sometime this year oil leaked for 6 months and shell did nothing. Infact am worried that with the US being strick with the drilling African coiuntires will suffer more as there environment will be expoilted further. Secondly i wonder why the media has not made a comparison bewteen how these multi coporate deal with oil spill in Africa which happens so often to put them on their toes . Dont they care? Coming from Africa the humble lesson from this for the western world'Do unto others what you would like done unto you'

    May 31, 2010 at 1:37 am |
  19. AlexG

    "British Polluter's 1st Priority: Don't Lose the OIL!"

    I'm not sure why no one is getting the point why BP (British Polluter / British Parasite's attempts were:

    Top Hat – Concrete cap that would allow siphoning off oil - to BP tankers on the surface.

    Top Fill – Plug/bury the leak in mud/concrete so that it can be controlled for easy access later to get the oil.

    Custom Cap – Place a cap on the leaking wellhead so that the oil can be pumped to BP tankers.

    Relief Well – Intercept the leak with relief wells and pump the oil from relief wells to waiting BP tankers.

    Get The Picture??? BP wants the oil above all. Second priority, clean up the junk to quiet down the people. This is big company "private enterprise" mindset. All you "Big Business" protagonists, take this as a bitter lesson: There's absolutely no "social contract" between a private business, especially a multinational, and human beings.

    May 30, 2010 at 11:53 pm |
  20. Marian on the Mississippi River


    BP is not the only entity with remote (ROV) units with robotic arms and cutting capability and Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicles (DSRV) with a maximum capability of 5,000 feet.

    Last week, a documentary aired saying in August, 2005, two U.S. Navy Super Scorpio units and a British Navy Scorpio were sent to rescue a Russian minisub. The Britsh unit arrived first, successfully cut the cables holding the Russian minisub and rescued the sailors.

    Are we using our U.S. Navy deep sea units, divers and equipment to help with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill?

    Thank you for your outstanding coverage of this disaster.

    May 30, 2010 at 11:37 pm |
  21. DS

    I am personally sick and tired of all the coverage and comments being mad by various individuals about BP. For all these years, oil companies have been drilling oil and people have been using it. No one cared about the environment. There are over 5000 wells. The well that had the accident did not have any major accident in its history. Each of us enjoy the ride when things go right, with least concerned about environmental dangers and potential risks. Some even want more drilling. All of a sudden, there is an accident and everyone wants to point fingers, instead of trying to solve the problem. Gov. Jindal finds lots of fault with BP, but he would have been the first one to promote deep sea drilling before the accident; after all it gets the revenue. Some are still arguing for near shore drilling and drilling in the Artics. The media has nothing better to do. We need to focus our effort towards trying to find solution instead of sitting on the sideline and criticizing.

    May 30, 2010 at 9:52 pm |
  22. yvonne

    I'm surprised the Navy ships haven't been called in to help syphon up some of that oil spill. BP needs all the help they can get.

    May 30, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
  23. Dr. Debra Lee

    I am deeply concerned about the news NOT reporting on TV the incredible and devastating impact that this oil spill is killing millions of species of marine life in the gulf. IT IS NOT ONLY the shrimp. crabs and delicacies that we eat and restore the economy of the area and the nation but the cruel deaths that are marine life from eel, to dolphin, to species we are not yet aware of in the Gulf that are sensitive beings that must face disorientation and suffocation before they die a hideous death.
    A death not only close to the barrier islands but near the oil spill itself. And when I do an internet search of ways I can help financially in this specific are of rescuing marine life dying due to this massive invasion of the environment, I come up with virtually nothing. Why not do an indepth investigational report on what we can due or what organizations are doing to rescue the marine life already in the throws of death in order that we can contribute to their efforts. I am quite tired about hearing BP and their next steps hour after hour. WE ARE ALL CALL TO BE STEWARDS OF ALL OF THE EARTH–including the rescuing of marine life right now–not months from today. This is my source of concern and grief. Dr. Debi

    May 30, 2010 at 7:48 pm |
  24. Pat Robins

    I am SO not getting this. Since when does a foreign British muli-national rule on sovereign American soil? The name is BRITISH Petroleum. When did our Executive-in Chief of the Armed Forces roll over and bow to another sovereign power that is clearly and repeatedly committing contemptuous and malfeasant acts of corruption, pillage, plunder and destruction to our economy (and people!) on our soil without so much as even Congressional inquisition, indictment, executive orders, emergency military mobilization? Going to another country and permanently destroying their land, capital and economy with reckless regard rises to an act tantamount to aggression, and you can see the contempt with every excuse they make.

    May 30, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
  25. Maria

    can using explosives in the oil well work?
    Why has it been considered here? we need to stop the spill, it doesn't matter if the well can be finctional in the future...they are trying to cap it stop the oil to preserve future excavation.

    BP, you have done enough damage, it is time to stop the spill forget about profiting from that site in the future.


    May 30, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
  26. John P.

    When it rains in the United States from Texas to Iowa and eastward the moisture likely comes from the Gulf of Mexico, which is now becoming poluted with BP crude. Will rains falling in Dallas or Des Moines in the near future contain a mix of oil and water?

    May 30, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
  27. charles greenan

    continued: This will become more imperative when the oil hits Texas,Alabama, and Mississippi. If BP hires contractors(US residents I hope), ok, but they must be deployed to locations by Louisiana and the United States, unhindered by BP.

    May 30, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
  28. Anthony

    OIl Spill Fix

    1.Do not cut pipe off yet -try Crimping and Bridging first if possible

    2. Crimp pipe as close to BOP as possible( By pounding end into
    ocean floor or with that crimping hydralic tool )

    3.Try to crimp pipe at holes to allow mud and bridgeing material to build up

    4Then use junk shot and mud to fill pipes holes and crimped ends

    5. * if not possible to crimp or straighten pipe -then go head and cut
    pipe use cap with riser to capture oil

    May 30, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
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