Here go we again (and again). The ongoing catastrophic saga of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico grows worse by the minute (second). Officials have released the latest estimates of how much oil is leaking from the Deepwater Horizon site. It is now believed that as much as 60,000 barrels — 2.5 million gallons — of oil is spilling from the source per day. Think Exxon Valdez every 4 days.

The latest numbers come after scientists, led by Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, analyzed pressure readings and new high resolution made available after BP made a cut in the riser.

That riser cut, executed by BP to help it capture some of the oil, is believed to have increased the flow of oil. Some of that is being captured — BP says 15,000 barrels of oil a day. (Which means, of course, that some 45,000 barrels are still spewing into the ocean).

Once again, it needs to be noted that BP initially claimed there was only 5,000 barrels of oil leaking a day, and the federal government backed up those figures — and then both proceeded to cling to them for over a month. Why would anyone now believe BP’s “15,000 barrels per day” assertion?

Those fluctuating numbers alone highlight the many questions already raised about how much transparency there’s been on such matters.

As for the spill itself, efforts to “plug” the well have failed abysmally. Hope (if there is any left in supply these days) continues to rest on the relief well that BP continues to drill as “the best chance” of finally stopping the gushing crude. Again, why would anyone believe BP’s assurances that that will occur in August?  Until then, 2.5 million gallons of oil a day will surge into the Gulf of Mexico.

Meanwhile, today, BP agreed to the $20 billion compensation fund which will be run by lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw the compensation fund for families of 9/11 victims and also oversees salary limits for companies getting federal bailout money.  $20 billion.

How do we measure the loss given the following?

AP: “Dolphins and sharks are showing up in surprisingly shallow water just off the Florida coast. Mullets, crabs, rays and small fish congregate by the thousands off an Alabama pier. Birds covered in oil are crawling deep into marshes, never to be seen again.

Marine scientists studying the effects of the BP disaster are seeing some strange phenomena. Fish and other wildlife seem to be fleeing the oil out in the Gulf and clustering in cleaner waters along the coast in a trend that some researchers see as a potentially troubling sign.

The animals’ presence close to shore means their usual habitat is badly polluted, and the crowding could result in mass die-offs as fish run out of oxygen. Also, the animals could easily get devoured by predators.

“A parallel would be: Why are the wildlife running to the edge of a forest on fire? There will be a lot of fish, sharks, turtles trying to get out of this water they detect is not suitable,” said Larry Crowder, a Duke University marine biologist.

The nearly two-month-old oil spill has created an environmental catastrophe unparalleled in U.S. history as tens of millions of gallons of have spewed into the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem. Scientists are seeing some unusual things as they try to understand the effects on thousands of species of marine life.

The vast nature of the spill means scientists are able to locate only a small fraction of the dead animals. Many will never be found after sinking to the bottom of the sea or getting scavenged by other marine life. And large numbers of birds are meeting their deaths deep in the Louisiana marshes where they seek refuge from the onslaught of oil.

“That is their understanding of how to protect themselves,” said Doug Zimmer, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The counting of dead wildlife in the Gulf is more than an academic exercise; the deaths will help determine how much BP pays in damages.

In some areas along the coast, researchers believe fish are swimming closer to shore because the water is cleaner and more abundant in oxygen. Father out in the Gulf, researchers say, the spill is not only tainting the water with oil but also depleting oxygen levels.

A similar scenario occurs during “dead zone” periods – the time during summer months when oxygen becomes so depleted that fish race toward shore in large numbers. Sometimes, so many fish gather close to the shoreline off Mobile that locals rush to the beach with tubs and nets to reap the harvest. But this latest shore migration could prove deadly.

First, more oil could eventually wash ashore and overwhelm the fish. They could also become trapped between the slick and the beach, leading to increased competition for oxygen in the water and causing them to die as they run out of air.

“Their ability to avoid it may be limited in the long term, especially if in near-shore refuges they’re crowding in close to shore, and oil continues to come in. At some point they’ll get trapped,” said Crowder, expert in marine ecology and fisheries. “It could lead to die-offs.”

$20 billion. How do we measure the decades of effects that we cannot, at this time, even imagine? As I type this, there are countless expectant and new mothers in the Gulf region that are breathing air-borne fumes of oil and dispersants (Corexit, a known endocrine disruptor).

How do we measure that threat and the inevitable fall-out? 2.5 million gallons per day times 120 days (from April 20th until the end of August) is 300 million gallons of oil in one of the most ecologically fragile and diverse areas of our planet.

To those who insist that this will not impact the eastern seaboard of the US, I say, “You are naïve and misinformed.”

To those who seem unaware of the fact that this is a global crisis, I say, “Raise your eyes from the road beneath your feet.”

To those who ask, “So what I can do?” I say, “Break your addictions of convenience and sloth. Lower the demand for this non-renewable and deadly resource. Small and painless changes — if we all join in — truly can make a difference.”

Think…12 million barrels of oil per year go into the making of the 100 billion plastic grocery bags used per year in the United States. And that is only a drop in the mindless bucket of consumerism. We cannot turn back time and prevent the Gulf disaster — but we each affect the demand for oil and we can actively call for the support for renewable sources of energy.

Oh dear God. I feel another disaster coming on.

(Oh…and, by the way, hair booms are not now and nor will they ever be used in the Gulf. They absorb more water than oil, sink rapidly and add to the detritus along the shorelines and in the marshlands. I have spent hours trying to debunk this effort — and I truly do understand people’s need to help — but, please, stop now. The postal system is being clogged, volunteer’s time diverted and warehouse space co-opted for hair booms that must be disposed of at some point). http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com/go/doc/2931/558807/

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Alex Kearns

Alex Kearns

Alex writes for a variety of national and international publications. A relative newcomer to the United States, she co-founded her town's first environmental organization (The St. Marys EarthKeepers, Inc.). In turns bemused, confused, entranced, frustrated and delighted, she enjoys unravelling the eternal enigma that is the Deep South.