A cleanup crew wearing protective suits pass a small child as they comb the beach for toxic materials from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (Michael Appleton/The New York Times)

As a resident of Louisiana, I’m so sick about this oil spill that I can’t even begin to tell you.

BP has been sticking to its initial “guesstimate” that approximately 5,000 barrels a day of oil are spewing forth into the Gulf, despite numerous reports saying that the real amount of oil being released is more likely in the range of 56,000-80,000 barrels per day. Even if you go with the lower estimate of 56K barrels a day, that means more than 2.3 MILLION gallons. A day.

BP’s CEO, Tony Hayward, has had the gall to try to downplay the damage being caused to the Gulf. “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume,” Hayward said.

But thanks to the “hot tap,” the smaller pipe that BP has shoved into the gaping pipe that is hemorrhaging oil, we’re saved, right? BP began proudly reporting on Thursday that the “hot tap” is now siphoning off 5,000 barrels of oil per day. However, as BP has maintained that only 5,000 gallons of oil a day have been leaking, and significant quantities of oil are STILL gushing out, this puts them in a bit of a quandary. You can watch a live feed of the oil leak here. (Note: the site has gone down, due to the high volume of traffic.)

Oil from the oil spill off the coast of Mobile, Ala. There are now gigantic underwater oil plumes in the Gulf, as large as three miles wide by 10 miles long, which were most likely caused by the dispersants that are being pumped into the oil at the site of the well. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy, Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael B. Watkins)

The situation just keeps getting worse. Earlier in the week, we learned that there are now gigantic underwater oil plumes in the Gulf, as large as three miles wide by 10 miles long, which were most likely caused by the dispersants that are being pumped into the oil at the site of the well. Do you get the feeling that it’s much better for BP if the oil is forming into giant slicks underneath the surface of the ocean? Out of sight, out of mind, right? And again, BP doesn’t want us to have any concrete estimate of the actual amount of oil being released, as shown in my favorite excerpt from the New York Times story:

“BP has resisted entreaties from scientists that they be allowed to use sophisticated instruments at the ocean floor that would give a far more accurate picture of how much oil is really gushing from the well.

“The answer is no to that,’ a BP spokesman, Tom Mueller, said. ‘we’re not going to take any extra efforts now to calculate flow there at this point. it’s not relevant to the response effort, and it might even detract from the response effort.'”

The sheer arrogance — refusing to allow scientists to more accurately measure the amount of oil actually being released into the Gulf because it’s not relevant? Not relevant to what? To BP’s public relations efforts? Might it not be relevant to know how big of a problem we’re actually dealing with?

And then let’s talk about the dispersants, shall we? Even though there is a dispersant called Dispersit that has been proven by the EPA to disperse 100 percent of south Louisiana crude oil and has also shown to have much lower levels of toxicity, BP is using a dispersant called Corexit, which has only been shown to disperse 55-63 percent of Louisiana crude. So why are we using a less effective dispersant? Let’s take a look at who’s on the board of directors of Nalco, the makers of Corexit:

More than 600,000 gallons of Corexit have been released in the Gulf so far. Corexit has been banned in the UK, BP’s home country, for over ten years, is toxic to marine life and is less effective than safer alternative and available dispersants. (Richard Perry/The New York Times)

“In 1994, Nalco and Exxon’s chemical division, Exxon Chemical Company, formed a joint venture focusing on oil and gas products like the dispersants in use in the Gulf. Daniel Sanders, and a vice president, Steve Taylor, both came from Exxon. Another Nalco board member, Rodney Chase, worked for BP for 38 years. In an interview, Nalco spokesman Charles Pajor says that former oil industry officials are ‘not by any means a majority’ of the company’s corporate leadership. Nevertheless, the cleanup effort has been good business for Nalco: the company has reported that it expects to sell $40 million worth of dispersants by the end of this week.”

More than 600,000 gallons of Corexit have been released in the Gulf so far. Did I also mention that Corexit has been banned in the UK, BP’s home country, for over ten years? Have I mentioned that Corexit is toxic? I hate to quote almost an entire article, but this drives home the point better than I can:

“But environmental experts have warned that Corexit could add to the ecological disaster in the Gulf rather than alleviate it. Oil companies designed the dispersants to reduce the amount of oil hitting land. That may spare BP the PR nightmare of oil-coated birds washing up on Louisiana’s shorelines. However, as scientists such as marine toxicologist Dr. Riki Ott point out, BP’s chosen dispersants will simply push the problem underwater. The chemicals, says Ott, have ‘the potential to cause intergenerational harm’ to marine life. Corexit has been banned in the United Kingdom due to environmental concerns.

“[Oil companies] want to make the visible part of the oil spill disappear — for political reasons, for limiting liability to the spillers,’ says Richard Charter, government relations consultant for Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund.’If we were looking at food chain impacts and biomagnification in the marine ecosystem, we probably never would have invented Corexit.'”

A dolphin lies on dead on a beach on Horn Island, Miss., in the Gulf of Mexico. 162 sea turtles have been found dead so far. About a dozen dolphins have died so far. Over 20 oiled birds are dead so far. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Simply push the problem underwater. Could that result in an underwater plume that’s ten miles long and three miles wide? Could that plume result in intergenerational harm to marine life?

The only good news I’ve seen thus far is that according to the Washington Post, the EPA is scheduled to announce today that it will demand that BP begin use of an alternate, less-toxic dispersant within 72 hours.

Dead animals are washing up on shore. 162 sea turtles have been found dead so far. About a dozen dolphins have died so far. Over 20 oiled birds are dead so far.

And finally, we have the weeks it has taken to come up with a viable option, an option other than waiting the 90 days necessary to drill a relief well, to finally stop the flow of oil. we’re still waiting, on day thirty. And the oil is here.

Many, many options have been discussed regarding how to prevent the oil that’s already been released from damaging the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi. As you may or may not know, the booms are not working — they can’t handle any wave action higher than three feet. And the booms are currently being used — in the ocean — to try to prevent oil from getting onto the coast. As I’m sure you know, the waves in the ocean frequently exceed three feet. Additionally, thanks to the underwater dispersants, which have resulted in the plumes, the oil can now travel under the booms to the coast.

But guess what? There are other ideas — ideas that could actually work. The state of Louisiana put forth a plan almost two weeks ago to dredge and pump sand into the endangered areas, thereby creating artificial barrier islands that would stop the oil before it gets into the wetlands. In the days that we’ve been waiting for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assess the “environmental impact” of this plan on the coastline, oil has made its way onshore. And it is thick oil. Not the “light sheen” that BP has been insisting on.

Sheens of oil reaching land on the northern Chandeleur barrier islands. (AP Photo/David Quinn)

So far, 24 miles of Louisiana wetlands have been impacted. Oil has made its way into the Bay of St. Louis on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. And still we wait, for someone to do something. Which do you think will have a bigger adverse environmental impact on the coast? Thick oil continuing to encroach on the wetlands because no one will do anything to stop it? Or temporary barrier islands, composed of sand, that would absorb the oil before it’s allowed to enter even more wetlands, where it’s impossible to remove? Billy Nungesser, the president of Plaquemines Parish (the site where the oil has made landfall), has said that the oil “has laid down a blanket in the marsh that will destroy every living thing there.”

Just as we did five years ago, the people of the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast are watching a storm come ashore, a storm that could affect the lives and the livelihoods of people in this area for generations to come. And just as we felt during Hurricane Katrina and the resultant levee failures in New Orleans, we are becoming increasingly frustrated that viable help has not yet arrived. Louisiana produces more than 30% of the oil and natural gas used by the entire nation. But the state of Louisiana is paying the cost and is currently losing its wetlands at the rate of one football field every 38 minutes.

So if you want to help, please contact your elected representatives and demand the following:

(L-R) BP America Chairman and President Lamar McKay, Transocean President and CEO Steven Newman and Tim Probert, president of global business lines, and chief health, safety and environmental officer at Halliburton, are sworn in before testifying to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee about the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. During testimony, BP laid some responsibility on the deepwater oil rig accident on Transocean; who, in turn, has laid some blame on Haliburton. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
  1. That the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers immediately approve the emergency federal permit for the artificial barrier island plan and require BP to pay the estimated $350 million in project costs.
  2. That Congress immediately pass the “Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act,” sponsored by Senators Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, and Bill Nelson of Florida. Currently by law, BP is limited to only $75 million (not billion) in liability for non-clean-up costs and containment of the oil spill. But as a post on the site the Maritime Lawyer states, “the fact is that even after the Gulf of Mexico is cleaned up, there’ll be several communities along these shores who will be devastated by the effect of the spill. These communities are heavily dependent on fishing, tourism and other related industries for their livelihoods. The economic impact of such a spill could last for generations in these areas. BP has to be held accountable for those costs too.” Currently, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is blocking this bill. And I ask you to keep in mind that if BP is not held liable for ALL losses associated with this oil spill, we, the American taxpayers, will be.

As Rachel Maddow stated weeks ago, “America has a choice to make about the State of Louisiana. Is Louisiana part of our country or isn’t it? Because if Louisiana is part of America, then the American people and the American government have to begin to defend Louisiana…”


Editor’s note: The photos shown in this post are from a shared gallery on the Denver post web site. Click here, or any of the photos to view the gallery.

Andrea Lee Meyer

Andrea Lee Meyer

Andy Meyer is a native of St. Simons Island, Georgia. After graduating with a journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she lived briefly in Savannah before heading west. She made it as far as New Orleans, where she met and married a local boy. She's currently a grant writer and administrator at Tulane University and spends her free time reading, writing, and teaching her four-year-old daughter, Emmeline, the importance of phrases like "Go Dawgs" and "Who Dat." She blogs at www.gris-grits.blogspot.com.